The Legislative Assembly has unanimously approved a motion that directs the government to consider how it might provide free healthcare for Cayman’s children.
Assembly member Chris Saunders, of Bodden Town West constituency, said he introduced the motion to push the idea that government has an obligation to make sure the country’s children get the healthcare they need.
“At the end of the day, this is more of a matter of principle,” Saunders said, rather than a question about cost and how to pay for such services. “I brought this motion for one simple reason, it was the right thing to do.”
He said the motion was purposely generic in order to avoid any political friction.
“Every one of us in this room benefited from free healthcare when we were growing up,” Saunders said. “I think it is time for us to return back to our basic fundamental principle of investing in our people.”
He admitted he did not know how that might be done.
“None of us in this house has the knowledge, the expertise nor the skill set to find a solution,” he said. “The only thing this House can provide is the will to get it done. It will require us, the government, bringing together the necessary experts and necessary people with the knowledge and expertise to deal with this issue.”
Health Minister Dwayne Seymour said his people have been studying the issue.
“We do have a team and the ministry looking at these proposals already,” Seymour said, “and also the possibility of a national healthcare plan.”
Laying out the options for such programmes, he said, “is something I intend to achieve during these four years.”
Several members cautioned that such a programme would likely be expensive and that government should be cautious.
“We have to bear in mind how the government is going to fund this, not just now but in the long term,” said Premier Alden McLaughlin. “I urge us all to continue working to preserve and improve upon the model we have so that we are able to broaden the social programs the government is able to offer.”
He said the Cayman Islands is better positioned than most countries to take on free healthcare for children, but also warned against veering from what he said has been a successful economic model for the island. That model, he said, makes considering such a programme possible.
In an apparent reference to the current cruise port controversy, he said the assembly members needed to “make sure we don’t do rush things that discourage investment, that have the effect of reducing the amount of visitors who come here …. It is only through that continued growth of revenue that we are able to provide those social programmes and make concessions that help our people.”
Others focussed on the human impact.
Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo lamented that such a discussion was necessary.
“It is unfortunate that [Saunders] had to actually bring this motion,” Suckoo said. “It says something for what some of our people are going through. I don‘t think any of us are a stranger to that reality. I see it quite often where entire families sometimes don’t have access to healthcare” because they cannot afford it.
“Everybody should get the best care available,” he added, “and we can’t let finances be an obstacle in achieving that”.
Saunders said the moment was right for determining what might be possible and suggested such a healthcare programme might be rolled out gradually in phases.
“It’s time now for the Cayman Islands to step up and see what we can do for our young people,” he said.