Over the past few months, the issue of the healthcare system and its inadequacy have been increasingly brought to the fore- old problems back in the spotlight. Under the current system, healthcare in public facilities is free and that is good right! Free is good!
It is no secret that we have a national emergency on our hands where health is concerned; from long waiting periods to lack of medical and surgical equipment to lack of drugs. Something clearly is not working. And one of those things is the free healthcare policy in our current climate of budgetary restraint. For some of the lucky few, the system has really helped; they arrived at 3am, the day after we happen to get some drugs and people decided to take a leave from being sick so hooray! They are seen quickly and drugs won’t run out for the next 48 hours. But that’s not the case for the many that I have heard from or encountered.
I am, therefore, requesting a review and possible overhaul of the current system and and the introduction of major reform. One such reform policy, which I suggest, is the advent of a healthcare tax, introduced to subsidize healthcare to as great a magnitude as is possible. I know that tax is a word dreaded by Jamaicans so I will not expect much support on this. But let’s face it, fixing or beginning to fix the current decay (which is not new, contrary to popular belief) requires the health budget to be increased to magnitude which our current economic programme and budgetary restraints will not allow us to do right now or in the near future.
A health tax would generate as set amount of revenue yearly which I’d suggest be set aside for overall improvement of our healthcare infrastructure and services nationwide. It would be an additional burden on the salary but it could also mean several more lives saved, it could also mean getting subsidized drugs at the hospital instead of buying it at the full cost outside, it could mean patients getting antibiotics for their surgeries at the hospital, it could mean a better working environment for healthcare workers who like other humans become frustrated with inadequacies and hence, could also mean a more contented staff and better service.
As it relates to quoting a percentage figure for the tax, I couldn’t but I would suggest that the Ministries of Health and Finance take note of the suggestion and have their technocrats examine the feasibility and come up with a reasonable figure. For those who are working, by salary deduction and to the unemployed/underemployed, I suggest, by a stamp system similar to that of the NIS.
Let’s face, contrary to popular belief, the resignation of Minister Ferguson will in no way solve our health predicament! Let’s also face THE FACT that free healthcare is not working and that its not working did not start recently. In fact, my use of private healthcare commenced with the advent of this free healthcare policy under the previous administration when the wait-time, the equipment and drug availability deteriorated even more with the increasing inability to provide the requisite funding to make free health care work. What is happening now is the peak of a bad policy which we can either allow to reach new peaks or do something about it, sending it into decline.
For many, free has meant waiting for lengthy periods then going to buy their own drugs and surgical equipment- if they don’t reach to a private facility first. Free has meant major morbidity due to the lack of resources. For some, free has been free to no longer exist, free to be released from this world, yes free to die! Because the necessary treatment/s will not be available anyway and they won’t be able to pay a private facility anyway! And that Jamaicans is our reality.
To properly serve the ill, our facilities and services will need to be improved/expanded and after using up the health budget to cover free healthcare, there will not be enough to focus on the many other aspects of healthcare which need the focus. I strongly believe in social services benefitting all and as such, the substance of my article didn’t ask for citizens not to have benefits but for there to be review where a system has clearly not worked; for subsidizing to be explored where freeness hasn’t worked
Dr. Ferguson, I do not ask for a resignation; all I ask for is a review of this bad policy, this predicament, this joke gone too far, this madness that has done more harm than good.
Aujaé K. Dixon