Health coverage may expand

Veterans and retired seafarers could be in for a break when it comes to paying for health care costs if a motion tabled by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush is passed.

Mr. Bush called on the Government to ease the health care cost burden on financially strapped pensioners who are subject to a 13 per cent interest rate on health care loans if they turn to the government for financing of overseas treatment.

About 90 veterans and 500 retired seafarers would be affected by the decision.

‘I would like to assure members that steps are being taken to ensure that all members of Caymanian society have access to sustainable health care,’ Health Minister Anthony Eden told the Legislative Assembly.

‘Once we have a better understanding of which people out there need our help the most, the Ministry will be better able to look at addressing this matter.’

While veterans and seafarers receive unlimited local health care coverage including vision and dental from the government-owned Cayman Islands National Insurance Company, the Legislative Assembly learned that they do not have access to overseas coverage under the Cayman Islands programme.

However, Caymanian veterans and merchant mariners who were employed in the United States and paid into Social Security during their careers are now eligible for Medicare, which covers 80 per cent of the cost of medical treatment undergone in the United States.

Overseas treatment is sometimes necessary as the Cayman Islands doesn’t always have the necessary systems in place for some treatments.

Mr. Tibbetts has said recently that scenario is not likely to change because of the economies of scale, which make some services prohibitively expensive to offer full-time on-Island.

People covered by the CINICO Standard Health Insurance Contract plan, while receiving less comprehensive local coverage than those under the veterans and seafarers plan, are covered for CI$25,000 for overseas inpatient costs.

If a patient under the veteran and seafarer plan needs to go overseas for treatment, they will only be covered if they have purchased additional coverage from another provider or are eligible for Medicare.

If the patient does not have overseas coverage, then they must turn to alternate forms of financing, which can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Dale Banks of the Veteran’s Association is pleased Government is looking into the matter, but says Cayman’s veterans have been treated more than fairly compared to other jurisdictions.

‘The veterans are very appreciative of the assistance we have received from the Government to date, and it is a great credit to Cayman,’ he said.

‘At the same time to potentially receive further coverage for overseas treatment is always welcome, as the average age of our members is 80 and health care is always a concern.’

The proposed changes will affect Cayman’s seamen to a larger degree, and Godfrey McLean of the Seafarers association is also pleased with the news.

‘Very few of our members have Medicare coverage, and it would prove that the government is looking out for the people who have contributed so much to this country,’ he said.

‘It is a measure of a society how the young and the elderly are treated, and this would be a great benefit, especially for our older members.’

The Legislative Assembly learned that limited Government resources caused the implementation of the 13 per cent rate on government loans in order to encourage use of bank financing rather than government funds to pay for overseas health care.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts remarked that the previous administration’s decision to make access to overseas financing assistance more difficult was spawned by the concern that some patients were deciding to use government funds for overseas medical treatment based on preference rather than need.

It was also further noted that there is a great disparity of costs between different overseas jurisdictions able to provide the types of health services unavailable in the Cayman Islands, but once again it was apparent that more expensive jurisdictions like the United States were being chosen over more affordable, but less popular ones like Jamaica.

Mr. Tibbetts noted that one associated problem that needs to be addressed over the long term is continued locally-held perceptions that in comparable situations, overseas health care services are considered to be superior to those in the Cayman Islands.

However, a change may be on the horizon for seamen and veterans who legitimately need assistance in going overseas.

‘The Government and CINICO have been meeting with veterans and seamen to discuss how best to deal with the matter of overseas coverage and instate it in the most seamless way possible,’ said Mr. Tibbetts.

‘We may be able to consider, for example, the fact that these groups contribute to the HSA annually, and something may be worked out there to assist with covering premiums.’

Mr. Eden is preparing to view the report on the findings on the talks with CINICO and the veterans and seamen before proceeding with the issue.

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