Health Minister Anthony Eden defended Cayman’s so called ‘two-tiered’ health system during a press conference on the mishandling of Shelesha Woodstock’s case Tuesday.
Former Health Minister Gilbert McLean and the Cayman Observer are among those to recently criticize an unofficial policy in which it is said government is providing financial guarantees to uninsured or under-insured Caymanians needing urgent overseas medical care but denying such guarantees to expatriates.
‘I invite those who have raised charges of a so-called ‘two-tiered system’ to provide the Ministry with examples from other countries, where non-nationals of those countries are provided by the host government with cover for incidents of catastrophic illness,’ Mr. Eden said.
‘Until such time, I have nothing further to say on that subject.’
Earlier, Mr. Eden had said the hospital’s policy of providing care to any resident that presents at the hospital would not be changing, but added coverage for catastrophic situations would also not be changing.
Allegations of a ‘two-tiered’ healthcare system were pushed into headlines by Ms Woodstock’s case, and later when prematurely born Jamaican twins died at the Cayman Islands Hospital 9 November.
In the later case, the babies could not be transferred off-island for the medical care they required because their mother’s standard health insurance policy covered only $25,000 of care per incident.
Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush later weighed in on the subject, telling the Legislative Assembly in mid November that ‘whether [people are] from Cayman, Jamaica or the moon, we should do everything in the world to save life.’
‘This is the second time that because someone was from a certain country, government would not do anything about it,’ Mr. Bush said at the time.
‘We have these people working in our country and we have to find a way to deal better with it.’
Mr. Eden has explained that usually it is for the family of someone requiring urgent overseas care to guarantee the cost of an air-ambulance and hospital bills.
On Tuesday, Mr. Eden said he will be announcing a number of new healthcare initiatives in January, but did not specify what these would include.
However Health Insurance Superintendant Mervyn Conolly told the press conference that the Health Insurance Commission will be recommending the Ministry of Health and Human Services enhance benefits under the standard health insurance policy required by law.
He pointed out that is has been 10 years since legislation was introduced requiring a minimum level of health insurance for all employees, and that the cost of healthcare has increased significantly since then.
But he cautioned that the standard insurance policy has to be kept affordable.
‘If we increase the benefits today to the point where it is not affordable to the average employee, that will not be doing us any good going forward,’ he said.
‘We have to keep the balance between keeping the plan of benefits affordable and how much additional benefits we add to the plans.’
Mr. Eden also raised the possibility that his Ministry will consider tendering for an air-ambulance in the coming months. ‘Just this morning the Chief Officer [Diane Montoya] and I talked about how we need to get that in place very promptly,’ he said.
Speaking after the Tuesday’s press conference, Honorary Jamaican Consul Robert Hamaty said he expected to hear soon on whether it would be feasible to establish a collective medical fund for low income earners that require emergency medical treatment off-island.
Under the fund, employees and employers would make a small contribution to the fund that could then be used when the need arose.
Mr. Hamaty said he envisaged the fund being available to Caymanians and non-Caymanians alike. He has asked an insurance company to look into the issue, pointing out that low income earning Jamaicans are disproportionately affected by under-insurance or a lack of health insurance.
Although the Jamaican consulate has initiated the feasibility study, Mr. Hamaty emphasised that his consulate would not be involved with administering the fund. That would be for the appropriate insurance authorities, he said.