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Wednesday, April 06, 2005 - Moves continue here towards the inauguration of a new concept designed to make quality health care more readily available to St. Lucians at cost prices. The government of Saint Lucia, through the National Insurance Corporation (NIC), the Ministry of Health and other health service providers have been discussing the setting up a Universal Health Care (UHC) programme that will provide residents with equal access to health care, defined in a published package of services and benefits.

UHC will ensure that residents have access to quality health services regardless of their financial status. Health officials lament the current high cost of medical services and the rising number of St. Lucians who seek medical treatment without paying for them. According to administrator of the Vieux-Fort based St. Jude Hospital Mr. Paul Meroe, in most cases, government has to foot the bill.

The present situation, Meroe says, cannot continue. “The introduction of UHC is a beautiful development for VH as well as for St. Jude.” According to the administrator who has severed at Golden Hope Hospital, Turning Point and Victoria Hospital, “the volume of exemptions that we have and the very fact that UHC will be covering everybody, those institutions stand a chance of recovering almost 100% of the services that are not being paid for at this point in time.

The new system will be funded with a fixed tax on consumption goods. That proposed flat tax is a 3.5% - 4% increase to the environmental levy, which now stands at 1% – 1.5%. The name will be changed to health and environmental levy and will now be charged at 5%. Basic goods such as food and clothing have been exempted. The tax will raise an estimated 30 million dollars, with government matching that amount as part of its overall contribution to health care.

Proponents of the concept say it’s not perfect but it will level the playing field and greatly improve the ability of service providers like Victoria Hospital and St. Jude to provide quality care.

“Right now there are serious problems in the health services, serious problems link to quality, financing, poor coordination, inequity, ineffectiveness and inefficiencies,” says Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen King. In his words, “the healthy sector was built on three pillars, efficiency, effectiveness and equity. UHC is an ideal mechanism to achieve those objectives.”

UHC is still several months in the making as stakeholders work on fine-tuning the system. It will cover several broad headings like services offered, overall coverage, overseas treatment, establish criteria for persons to qualify under the new system, redress, and will be flexible enough to allow persons wishing to keep their own private medical insurance to do so.

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