Healthcare crisis looms

Civil Servants reject policy changes

Government ministers insist that no decision has been taken on reforming civil servants’ health benefits.

‘It is under review, but no outcomes of any sort have been determined,” Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said at the Cabinet press briefing last week.

‘I want to ensure civil servants, their families and all our citizens that their voices on this matter will be heard clearly and completely prior to any decision being reached by Cabinet,” he said.

Mr. Tibbetts’ comments came after the Cayman Islands Civil Servants Association hit out against government suggestions that benefits be reduced and co-payments introduced in light of spiralling healthcare costs.

CICSA President James Watler told members that the association continues to monitor the Ministry of Health ‘and its seeming intention to merge to a co-pay type of situation,’ at its Annual General Meeting on 12 March.

‘It’s no secret that we all agreed when we were appointed to receiving free medical,’ Mr. Watler said. ‘This is the stance that we have taken and shall continue to take [unless] you direct us otherwise.’

Health Minister Anthony Eden has previously warned that the current healthcare model will cripple government financially if changes aren’t made, suggesting co-payments be introduced for civil servants.

But Mr. Watler said during the AGM that CICSA members will only consider contributing to their medical care if they are given the option of private medical care. Currently, public servants can only get free health care at government medical facilities.

Mr. Tibbetts revealed Thursday that the generous health package that civil servants, indigents, veterans, seafarers, pensioners and their families receive is costing government $64 million annually – over 10 per cent of its yearly budget.

‘It’s a tremendous amount of money,’ he said. ‘We need to find a way for those health benefits to come in at a lesser cost.’

Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin said he will not personally support any move to strip benefits from existing government employees, but he said consideration must be given to offering lesser benefits to new civil servants.

‘They have been hired on the basis that health care is part of the overall package,’ he said. ‘Obviously they would object to those benefits being changed.’

With up to 90 per cent of overseas medical referrals being sent to North America, Mr. Tibbetts said more use has to be made of regional medical facilities, which are cheaper and often of comparable, if not better, quality.

Mr. McLaughlin warned of the dangers of inaction: ‘If the size of the civil service continues to grow … with the very narrow tax base that we have and the increasing pressure being brought to bear on government revenues generally, I really think we are going to have to do something about [it].’

Mr. Tibbetts said government will not shy away from taking difficult decisions, but added more needs to be learned about the options available to Government.

He called for a level-headed assessment of the situation by civil servants, asking them to learn the facts, consider the alternatives and move forward the process ‘in a way that does not short circuit the business of government.’

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