The Cayman Islands government has budgeted to spend more than $13 million a year to cover 1,075 retired seamen, former veterans and their widows, according budget records.

Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson told the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee on Tuesday that government-paid premiums for the group cost $577 per member, per month. These payments bring the average annual cost for the premiums to just under $7.5 million.

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller noted that the cost is less than the average premium government pays on behalf of active civil service workers. Mr. Miller said he presumed that most who receive the seamen and veterans coverage are older Cayman citizens who likely need more care.

“Why is the premium for the average civil servant higher than the seamen’s and veterans’ coverage?” Mr. Miller asked.

Cayman Islands National Insurance Company Chief Executive Lonny Tibbetts said Tuesday that the additional premium cost associated with civil service healthcare coverage includes expenses for “tertiary” medical care – when government workers require off-island or specialist medical assistance, for example. The annual premiums for seamen and veterans do not include such specialist care coverage.

In the event that a retired seaman or former serviceman requires tertiary care, government has a separate fund to pay for it. Budget estimates show Cayman plans to spend more than $17 million during the upcoming 18-month budget on those types of healthcare expenditures for seamen, veterans and indigents – Caymanians who have no healthcare coverage.

The 12-month budgeted amount for the expenditure contained in the 2016/17 spending plan is $11.4 million. About 55 percent of that amount ($6.3 million) is earmarked for tertiary healthcare coverage of seamen and veterans, according to government financial estimates.

It is stated that between 1,000 and 1,100 indigents will use the coverage in the next 18 months. Another 1,300 to 1,355 seamen and veterans, widows and dependents are expected to use the coverage during the course of the next budget.

The vast majority of those receiving the seamen’s and veterans’ healthcare coverage are seamen. Mr. Jefferson said only 19 veterans on Grand Cayman have that coverage, though more may receive the $550 a month government stipend, a separate government payment to assist with monthly expenses.

Mr. Jefferson said 412 seamen and 292 spouses received the healthcare coverage benefit on Grand Cayman, while 19 veterans and 12 spouses also reside here and receive the benefit. There are 65 seamen and veterans and 51 spouses in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman who are covered under the plan, the financial secretary said.

In addition, between the three islands, there are 224 widows of seamen and veterans, and their dependents, who receive the healthcare coverage, Mr. Jefferson said.

Mr. Miller pointed out that – according to budget records – 150-160 veterans receive the monthly stipend of $550, compared to the 19 receiving the healthcare coverage, but Mr. Jefferson said there may be cases where a seaman or veteran does not need the healthcare benefit and still qualifies for the monthly payments from government.

“I would think the number should be similar, not 150 apart,” Mr. Miller said.

Ex-gratia payments to seamen and former servicemen are expected to cost more than $10.5 million in the upcoming 18-month government budget plan. This is to cover the $550 per month payment. The annual cost of the benefit is estimated at around $7 million.

According to budget records, between 950-1,060 seamen and veterans receive the monthly stipend of $550.