OPPOSITION spokesman on health, Dr Kenneth Baugh says that the public has saved approximately $8 billion from the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) abolition of hospital user fees in 2007.
Speaking in the sectoral debate in the House of Representatives last week, Dr Baugh -- who served as deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and foreign trade from 2007 to 2011 -- said that that $7.8 billion saved during the previous administration over the period 2007-2011 "represented a tremendous level of increase in disposable income to the Jamaican people, especially in these times of economic and financial hardships.
"We were convinced that there were mounting barriers to health care, because of the increasing dependence of the health services on fees collected in hospitals," Baugh said.
He added that with the introduction of the no-user fee policy, visits to health centres increased by 18 per cent, from 6.7 million visits to 7.9 million visits in the first three years of the policy; pharmaceutical items dispensed moved from 3.5 million to 6.1 million, a 70 per cent increase; visits to pharmacy windows increased by 54 per cent, moving from 1.6 million to 2.4 million; laboratory tests increased by 82 per cent, moving from 7.1 million to 12.8 million. He was comparing data for the three years prior to the abolition of the fees to the data of three years after.
"This is convincing evidence that fees charged at the point of service had indeed become a barrier for health care, and I have recounted the anecdotes of people who postponed medical care because of outstanding bills owed to public institutions," the former minister said.
However, he criticised the response of the current Government to the policy, pointing to the Minister's ambivalence on the issue.
"Although we have a verbal statement from the minister [of health] in regards to questions at the Standing Finance Committee, the minister omitted to document his intention in his statement to the House and that raises some concerns," Dr Baugh said.
He said that the minister had earlier stated his intention to impose charges on those who could afford to pay the fees, but this implied a means test. Subsequently the minister reversed his position.
-- Balford Henry
BAUGH... it is evident that fees charged at the point of service had indeed become a barrier for health care