There are really two parts of this sorry story that need addressing.
The first is that the letter to FutureCare policy holders (see below), dated 17 January 2012, and signed by Mr. Collin J. Anderson, Director of the Government’s Health Insurance Department, vindicates completely all that our colleague Mrs. Louise Jackson has been saying about FutureCare since it was first announced.
I don’t want to be sidetracked into a debate about whether the Minister, Zane DeSilva, called Mrs. Jackson a liar or not. Whatever he said, it is correct to say that he was angry about Mrs. Jackson’s remarks. He made an allegation to the House of Assembly and then on radio that she was spreading misinformation.
“Her actions show that the Opposition is so desperate that they will mislead our seniors,” he said.
The Opposition is not desperate. We would not mislead Bermuda’s seniors. In Mrs Jackson, we had a tenacious and well-informed colleague…better-informed, as it turns out, than Mr. DeSilva.
We think that under the circumstances, Mr. DeSilva should make a complete and unreserved apology to the Mrs. Jackson. That would be the correct and the decent thing to do.
We don’t mean to suggest that the Minister would himself have been cynical and irresponsible enough to deliberately mislead the House of Assembly, the radio audience and the rest of Bermuda about what Mrs. Jackson said. Perhaps the Minister was misled, whether by accident or design, we cannot say. But if this is the case, he ought to get to the bottom of it and make sure it doesn’t happen again, because Ministers just can’t afford to allow themselves to be kept in the dark on important matters, especially matters which are controversial, as this one is.
The second part of this story concerns the deeply shocking admissions the Ministry of Health has made in its letter to its policy holders about FutureCare.
First, and in a general sense, it amounts to an admission that the public, and specifically those who signed up for FutureCare were seriously misled about the benefit package, to the grave detriment of all those who gave up other insurance packages to switch.
It amounts to an admission that they irresponsibly launched FutureCare – in the midst of the 2007 election – without having done their homework properly. At the time of the announcement, people in the private sector wondered how on earth the Government could afford to finance a scheme which offered such generous benefits.
Now we know. Government couldn’t.
Mr. Anderson, the director of the Health Insurance Department, admits that “We delayed implementation of this co-payment because we required time to complete other aspects of our system implementation prior to making this change.”
The person in charge at the time was former Minister Walter Roban. It now seems clear that he and whoever advised him simply did not think the scheme through properly. Was an actuarial study done? Was there financial modeling? Was there a business plan? Was there an implementation plan? We don’t know the answer to those questions, but we do know that a grave doubt has now been created.
For Minister DeSilva to preside over a sudden cut of benefits by 25%, a 25% that the insured will now have to come up with themselves in a co-paying arrangement, and then call it a “tweaking” of the system speaks volumes about the disconnect that exists between him and FutureCare’s target population, who are the elderly poor. He obviously has no earthly idea of the impact of such a “tweaking” on people who are working to a tight budget, especially at an economic time like this one.
This raises a couple of key questions. Will care providers require that 25% up front to protect themselves? What will happen when the insured default on paying their portion of the co-pay? These are questions that must now be answered.
Finally, I would make the point that in our system, the buck stops with Minister DeSilva. He’s in charge. He gets the credit when things go well, and if they don’t, he should get the blame.
I wonder why a civil servant is being pushed out in front by being made to write a letter like this one. Now that it has become public, as it obviously would sooner or later, and a fuss is arising as a result of the Government’s serious shortcomings, who is going to be held accountable? Is it going to be a scapegoat civil servant? Or does the buck really stop where it should; with the Minister?