Increased MBS contributions possible for proposed National Health Insurance Plan

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By Latrishka Thomas

Residents of Antigua and Barbuda may need to brace themselves for an increase in their contributions to the Medical Benefits Scheme (MBS), a requirement that may be necessary in light of the National Health Insurance Plan (NHIP), which is presently in the works.

This is according to members of a team from the University of the West Indies (UWI), currently on island conducting a study ahead of the rolling out of the universal health coverage.

This was brought to light by one member of the team, Professor Karl Theodore, Professor Emeritus of the HEU Centre for Health Economics at the UWI, when asked if the mandatory medical tax will increase.

“We cannot tell you now what difference we will need to make. My suspicion is that given that we are going to be offering many more services to many more people, there is a good chance that the population might be required to pay a little more. How much more, we don’t know yet. That will depend on what the cost of the entire package is,” Theodore said at the NHIP stakeholder consultation held yesterday at the Royalton Resort.

“The decision as to what percentage people will have to pay for themselves, we can’t tell you that yet,” he continued. “Again, we will have to look to see what the full cost is and we are looking at the financing options. When we look at the financing options, we will recommend whether there will be some co-payments that will be necessary, or none.”

He said several factors will be considered before the necessity for an increase is finalised, to include the number of services being offered in the health package, as well as the number of unemployed, low income and elderly persons who may need coverage.

The government will also be covering a portion of the costs, Research Fellow at the HEU Centre for Health Economics at the University of the West Indies. Dr Stanley Lalta, stated.

He said: “In the other countries we have worked with, and we will make that determination when we do the analysis here, that the government makes a contribution on behalf of these groups specifically identified and targeted and this is where the other department [Ministry of Social Services] — which handles identification of who needs assistance — that determination, those names, those numbers, will come from….and the government will make a contribution into the pool of money on behalf of these groups so they are entitled to the same package of services like what everyone else is having.”

Moreover, Minister of Health Molwyn Joseph also explained that the MBS will not run parallel to the NHIP, but it will essentially “evolve into a National Health Insurance Plan”.

He explained that the insurance will benefit all residents of the twin island nation.

He also said that the new insurance plan should be rolled out some time next year after other consultations and the evaluation is complete.

“Now, in terms of timing, I think some time next year. But, as you have heard, the team is expected to be here about eight months, so some time beyond the eight months,” he shared.

Meanwhile, as detailed in this week’s Cabinet notes, “the nine-person team from the UWI and the MBS, led by the Chief Medical Officer, have been contracted to study the effective manner in which a NHIP can be implemented in Antigua and Barbuda, at a reasonable cost.”

Currently, the MBS covers contributors only and is restricted to 11 diseases, but NHIP will be a hybrid MBS, expanded to cover secondary health care for all.

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