The Cayman Islands Civil Service Association informed its employees this week that it had not agreed to any changes that would “reduce healthcare benefits” for government workers.
In a memo dated Feb. 22, the association said it had met with senior government managers in December and January to discuss the issue of civil service employees contributing to their monthly healthcare premiums.
“Members have been asking … if there are plans to reduce the civil service remuneration packages by reducing their healthcare benefits,” the memo stated. “The short answer is no, we know of no such decisions.”
However, the memo qualified that statement in the next line: “The long answer is more complex.”
Finance Minister Marco Archer has said publicly a number of times that it has been agreed to begin charging civil servants for a portion of their own healthcare costs in the beginning of 2018. Currently, civil servants and their family members receive 100 percent free healthcare from government health services, but their insurance does not cover healthcare at private facilities unless they first receive a referral.
“[Healthcare cost-sharing] will occur regardless of which [political] administration is there,” Mr. Archer said in November.
The minister told hundreds of attendees in the crowd for the government Professional Development Week event at the Marriott last November that the timing – “by the year 2018” – was an important distinction. He said both the elected government and the civil service management want to have the healthcare co-payment agreements in place during the 2018/19 budget to help reduce a massive, $1.18 billion future liability in the government healthcare system.
Any such change, according to the civil service memo released Wednesday, would have to be “acceptable” to those civil servants impacted by it since it represents a change in their contract with government.
Discussions in December and January over the issue sought more information on the “comparative costs of not going down that route,” according to the memo.
“The association has made no commitments on any possible future directions for civil service healthcare contributions,” the memo stated.
Mr. Archer said in November that the public sector will be burdened with a staggering debt for retirees’ healthcare in the coming years if it cannot or will not get a handle on annual healthcare costs now.
How much civil servants could be charged in monthly premiums is unknown, and Mr. Archer has said he did not want to get into the specifics of ongoing discussions.
The first-term minister, facing a re-election battle in George Town ahead of the May general election, said he realizes the decision will not be the most popular, politically speaking. But he believes the civil service management and the elected government is doing the best thing for the country’s financial future. He said he doubts future governments will have much choice in the matter, no matter who is elected.
“I know some politicians may say ‘oh no, we’re not going to do that to you,’” Mr. Archer said.
Discussions with the civil service employees association have also indicated that government workers may no longer be forced to use the government Health Services Authority for health-related services, as they are now if they want to receive free healthcare. Mr. Archer said choice of healthcare providers will be introduced as an option for civil servants when co-payments begin.