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Gov’t, Opposition close to a deal on user fees

Inside Parliament

BY BALFORD HENRY Observer senior reporter balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, April 28, 2013    

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THE National Health Fund (NHF) is projected to end up with a deficit of close to $763 million at the end of 2013/14, putting more strain on its efforts to keep the public health sector glued together.

Minister of Health, Dr Fenton Ferguson, has the task of keeping the public health services going this year, using less funding from the budget than was spent in both 2011/12 and 2012/13, and with the precarious support of a NHF hampered by fluctuating revenues and rapidly increasing obligations.

Dr Ferguson obviously wants to have something positive and substantial to report to Parliament when he speaks in the sectoral debate in the summer, and the most welcome development would be the balance needed to ensure access to proper health care for all Jamaicans, while finding a source of funding that can fill the vacuum left by the removal of user fees the previous Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government four years ago.

The Ministry of Health has begun national consultations to review the no-user fee policy, a process which started with discussions between Dr Ferguson and Opposition Spokesman on Health, Dr Ken Baugh, on April 18.

"The intention is to move from there, to having consultations in the four health regions, and also having smaller discussions with stakeholders," Ferguson said.

"Out of that, armed with the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank) study, which speaks to the sustainability of the health sector, I'm putting in place a concept document, so that when we get out in those formal consultations, there will be a baseline document, that will help to inform the process," he explained.

But, Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Holness, told a press briefing at the JLP's head office on Friday, that the party had no intention of changing its stand that the no user fee policy must remain in place for poor Jamaicans who cannot afford hospital costs.

"We have not changed and will not change our position on the user fee policies, both in education and in health," Holness said.

He said that the JLP implemented the no user fee policy in the hospitals and removed cost sharing in schools, as it felt that universal access to health and education were necessary pre-conditions to growth.

He said that the Opposition does not believe that people should be refused medical attention in public hospitals, because they are unable to afford the fees.

"We want every Jamaica to have access to health care when they need it, without having to worry about how they are going to pay for it," Holness insisted. However, he admitted that there is the possibility of a compromise, which is the basis of the current discussions between Ferguson and Baugh.

"Despite our position on the user fees, we do support some form of pooled funds for health, which is something we had started working on sometime ago," he said.

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