Support for National Health Insurance

Published in The Freeport News, December 8, 2015

Dear Editor,

Twenty fifteen (2015) is ending and we are about to enter twenty sixteen (2016). Due to the lack of funds, how many Bahamians would you say had to submit family and friends to the dreaded cook-out, to raise money to cover pending medical bills in 2015, hundreds, thousands? Just to realize that they came nowhere near what was needed. One could say that this is an indictment on our Bahamian society because, for the most part we have become numb, and emotionally detached from the repeated exposure and cries for help. Simply put, we are desensitized to the every weekend cook-outs.

What do we do? How do we help those that the book of Matthew 26:11 speaks about when it says: The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have Me.

We do not live in a communist nation. What do I mean? A communist nation in theory, advocates the elimination of private property and all goods are owned in common, and are available to all as needed. We live in a democratic nation, which is the opposite of the above. Therefore, again what do we do in terms of a safety net for the majority of Bahamians without medical insurance and who will never be able to financially cover the basic/minor medical treatment that is needed. Well, I for one fully endorse this PLP government’s implementation of the National Health Insurance (NHI).

How many of you are following the discussions on one of the most important, meaningful and moral pieces of legislation since National Insurance (N.I)?

What is somewhat puzzling to me is that, the need for such a program is not being echoed from the pastors and priests of all denominations. I do understand the role of the oppositions politically speaking, however, even the opposition parties should know when to put politics aside and do what is in the best interest of the Bahamian people. All of us should be singing with one voice on this matter, National Health Insurance Now! Let us take the moral high ground!

I can only surmise that The Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie understands the need for such a safety net for the majority of Bahamians without health insurance. This would also mean that the prime minister wants every Bahamian to feel God’s blessings. Every Bahamian is an inheritor of His kingdom, His grace and mercy, and a direct descendent from God.

God has given to all of us, This beautiful Bahamas.

I am not an official spokesman for the PLP. Nonetheless, I do understand that this NHI would be a blessing. This NHI, when reached maturity will provide comprehensive health care that is accessible to all citizens of The Bahamas. In other words, no matter how poor you might be, there will be no more standing on the street corners for handouts and no more cook-outs due to the lack of access to the right doctors and medicines.

However, if you were to listen to the noise, the negative rhetoric of doom and gloom of what this government is proposing for the beginning of twenty sixteen (2016) you would think that the world is coming to an end. The most that I can gather from the antagonist rhetoric is, how the PLP government proposed paying for the Bahamian People National Health Insurance. I myself know that, the money has to come from somewhere.

But first, let us get a better understanding of what this PLP government is trying to eliminate by the implementation of NHI.

PLPs, FNMs and others, must appreciate that the goal of the NHI is to ensure that all Bahamians obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them. The need for National Health Insurance in The Bahamas has never been greater.Currently, ill health, premature mortality and disability negatively influence all Bahamians.

According to a report by National Health Insurance Bahamas, today, over 200,000 Bahamians have no health insurance and over 100,000 Bahamians have no health safety net at all. The report went on to say, The Bahamas has more than doubled its health spending in the last 12 years, from under $400 million in 2002 to over $800 million in 2014. However, those additional dollars have not had any significant impact on improving health outcomes such as infant mortality or life expectancy. With that knowledge in hand and mind, my antagonist brothers and sisters who get to speak from the bully pulpit, here is my question? Are you saying we should do nothing because the PLP government has not yet, revealed how “we” are going to pay for such a program?

I, Lewis Astwood Jr. says, come January 2016, by any means necessary, NHI must come on stream.

The World Bank released its 2014 World Development Report, which includes data on GDP per capita. The Bahamas is the richest country in the Caribbean Community with a GDP per capita (per person) of $21,280. Yet, there is a humiliating disparity between the haves and the have-nots in The Bahamas. This is why every man of God should be front and center, advocating for the NHI, singing and shouting with one voice, what a wonderful day it will be for God’s people, when NHI comes on stream.

Let us take the moral high ground!

Let us take a look at what countries with a mirror like program are doing to accomplish NHI with some fiscal responsibilities.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in which The Bahamas is a member, is a forum where the governments of 34 democracies with market economies, work with each other, as well as with more than 70 non-member economies to promote economic growth, prosperity, and sustainable development.

Some of these countries are seeking the right balance to public and private insurance, public subsidies, and out of pocket payments.

For the purpose of ensuring access to better health care, improving the quality of health care and health outcomes, many OECD countries have implemented reforms to achieve policy goals.

The PLP government and the people of The Bahamas must not cower, cringe, recoil or flinch when it comes to implementing some kind of tax that would fully cover this most important NHI program.

I know.

I could hear the cries now.

Nonetheless, we the people of this beautiful Bahamas must grow up. We now should understand that no government on this earth can sustain its social programs and other financial responsibilities without taxes. Social programs are all government programs designed to give assistance to citizens outside of what the market provides. The Bahamas’ social safety net covers a broad spectrum of programs.

If not taxes, I ask again, where do you expect this money to come from?

I know for a fact, that the prime minister is not blind to the financial obstacles that NHI could pose. Therefore, the prime minister is seeking council from countries with a functioning NHI. This would enable the Bahamas NHI introduction some avoidance of major problems.

In Canada, where I lived for many years, all hospital care is paid for by the government and is funded from general government revenues. Canada spent about 11.4 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care, which puts it on the slightly higher end of OECD countries. Yet, the Canadian people hold its health care program with high regards, its Identity.

What is Taxation?

Value Added Tax (VAT) the big dirty word in The Bahamas.

I lived in Canada, I paid taxes. I lived in the USA and I’ve paid taxes.

Do we fully understand tax is a means by which the government finances their expenditures by imposing charges on citizens and corporate entities?

Governments use taxation to encourage or discourage certain economic decisions. For example, reduction in taxable, personal and household items stimulates construction activity and generates more jobs.

What are expenditures?

This is very important!

The government expenditure is not an unnecessary one. No, quite to the contrary, I say. Without it, it would be safe to say now, The Bahamas is coming to an end.

Let us think about how many of our brothers and sisters work for the Government of the Bahamas.

Now, think about the millions of dollars that get paid out every month for salaries. And, we are not talking about all of the other expenditures like assisting families with food, rent, electricity, water, Burial, small home repairs, school materials and yes, medical assistance. Just to name a few.

Government has to pay for everything it gives to its people. The population of the Bahamas is about 377,374 people, with an increase of about 5,414 per year. The female population is greater, with 192,737 women, representing 51.07 percent of the total, compared to 184,637 or 48.92 percent men. We also know that 99.95 percent of men would be the first to leave the home, leaving the children with the mother. This is why we have more women /mothers seeking government assistances. What is disconcerting to me, the voices of mothers/women are nowhere to be heard on this NHI matter.

With these facts in hand, I would like for the antagonists/anyone to tell me, how can any government PLP, FNM or others keep up with the demand without implementing some kind of tax scheme? It is the most painful thing this government had to do morally and the most dangerous politically. However, the prime minister knew that for the sustainability of the government’s social programs and to meet its monthly payroll, something had to be done. It might not be the popular or politically correct thing to do, however, it was going to take someone brave enough and someone who loves the people of the Bahamas more than politics to jumpstart the NHI. The citizenry of a nation will not always know what is in their best interest.  Again, this is when the need for a great leader comes into play. Yes, we know that all of the pieces are not in place!

Still, we believe in a merciful and loving God. Therefore, we must take this leap of faith and watch God work. The poor will always be with us. Implementing the Bahamas NHI come January 2016, would be the right thing to do.

I spoke with the Rt. Hon. Perry G. Christie, and I can say without fear or contradiction, he understands his and our mortality. Therefore, he understands that, if we want this Bahamas to continue its march on to glory, we have to enable you the Bahamian people to lift up your heads through love, unity,  education and in good health, not chaos.

If we are going to pay any taxes at all, it should be for our National Health Insurance. May I ask how many of you have health insurance?

If the voices of the antagonists are the loudest in the land, a true leader will never let that stop him or her from doing the right thing. Fear is real, but fear is not natural. When a baby is born, that baby has no knowledge or concept of fear. As we come into the age of consciousness and understanding, we are made aware of things that may cause us harm. I am not saying you will never be afraid of something or someone. What I am saying, is that as a leader of a people, you cannot let fear stop you from doing what is in the best interest of God’s people.

If you fail to do what God has blessed you to do, because of your fear, and you allow his sheep, his flock to become prey and meat for every beast of the field. God said, I will go and find them myself.

God said In Ezekiel:

“I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: But I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment.”

Also in the book of Timothy, 5:8, says:

“If any man fails to provide for his own, and especially of those of his house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.”

An infidel is one who believes in nothing. Whoever is the prime minister, he or she must understand that The Bahamas is their house, and “we” dwell within.

I Lewis Astwood JR. am not an infidel. I believed and believe in all of our leaders, from our first Prime Minister, Sr. Lynden Oscar Pindling; our former Prime Minister, Hubert Alexander Ingraham; and now, The Rt. Hon. Perry Gladstone Christie.

The antagonists/opposition to the NHI, cry cost, timing and transparency.

However, may I submit this for your consideration? It is time for a change in the way we think, in the way we interact with one another and the way we look at each another. Have some pride in who we are as men and women in this our beautiful Bahamas.  Our mentality is all messed up when it comes to working together to create a better life for our families and ourselves.

In my humble opinion, we have no unity, therefore; we have no power. We expect for the powers to be, to act with empathy and humility when formulating policies that would affect our lives?

If I may be so bold! You, the antagonists/opposition are not saying what you should be saying; that is, I/we have our concerns however, I/we are working closely with the prime minister to make sure that this most important program NHI comes to fruition.

By opposing the NHI in the manner that you are, you are showing the people of The Bahamas that you are on the outside and have no power. How can the people of The Bahamas expect the opposition to advocate for policies that are beneficial to our children and families, when they fail to demonstrate they know what the policies are? Never admit, that you have no idea what is going on. If you have no power, you will never be able to use that God like essence that could make you great.

On the other hand, the prime minister’s actions are telling me that, he is thinking now is the time we stop passing on this miserable life, the same or worse education, health care and the same or worse poverty. Something better is long overdue. The NHI may be painful financially, but a necessary pain at the beginning.

This too shall pass! I see this as the first step for the Bahamian people carving out a great future that we can be proud of. This is how people justify their existence.

I close with this, Thessalonians 5:14 &15.

And we beseech you, brethren, rebuke the unquiet, comfort the feeble minded, support the weak, be patient towards all men.

See that none render evil for evil to any man; but ever follow that which is good towards each other, and towards all men. One Love!

~Yours etc.

MIN. Lewis E. Astwood JR.

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