Editorial

Why Jamaicans will like this budget

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

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Many commentators have commended the Government on a range of benefits announced in the 2019/2020 budget.

Indeed, we have, in this space, posited that the Administration has achieved the right balance between a pro-growth reduction in taxes, a continued reduction in the debt-to-GDP ratio, and expanding the social safety net for the most vulnerable.

As we have stated before, the first thing to note in this budget is that despite a fairly large tax cut, Jamaica is credibly projected to have its sixth-consecutive balanced budget this fiscal year, so our still-low projected growth rate means that the automatic reduction in the debt-to-GDP ratio will continue.

We also believe that it is entirely possible that the $14-billion tax cut will be completely self-financing, or even produce additional tax revenue in the medium term, something we haven't seen in Jamaica since the late 1980s.

Amidst all the focus on the tax giveback and the other non-revenue measures in the budget, there were two announcements made by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in his presentation, that caught our attention.

The first was that starting April 30, lupus will be added to the list of conditions covered by the National Health Fund (NHF) card.

“This,” the prime minister said, “is expected to reduce the impact of this life-threatening disease and improve patients' quality of life, through improved access to medication.”

He explained that the annual cost to the NHF for coverage of subsidies for the treatment of lupus is estimated at $340 million, and that he has received assurance from the NHF that the addition of lupus to the card's benefits is sustainable.

Quite predictably, the Lupus Foundation of Jamaica (LFJ) welcomed the announcement, describing it as an act of compassion and an indication of greater awareness of lupus, its prevalence in Jamaica, and the ongoing expenses incurred by affected individuals.

We, too, applaud the Government for this decision, especially given the fact that, as the prime minister himself found out, treatment of the disease can cost between $50,000 and $60,000 per month depending on which medication is used. The upshot is that many lupus patients are unable to afford the medication.

When you add to that the Lupus Foundation's revelation that there are an estimated 6,000 people in Jamaica today living with the disease, you can understand even better our embrace of the announced benefit.

The LFJ has expressed hope that all drugs used to treat Lupus will be on the NHF subsidy list, including those designed to treat kidney disease, such as mycophenylate mofetil. We hope the foundation's concern will be addressed.

The second announcement made by Mr Holness was the special allocation of $200 million through the Ministry of Labour and Social Security to support the development of social enterprise projects in children's homes, golden age homes, and places of safety.

As the prime minister correctly pointed out, eventually some of the individuals in these homes will be discharged, and having participated in the social enterprise projects they will have learned a skill and the value of work.

No amount of help can be too much for these Jamaicans and the organisations, especially Mustard Seed Communities and Missionaries of the Poor, which care for and house them mostly from donations and simply through the kindness of their hearts.


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