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Jul 28, 2000

National health bill introduced in House

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It was a meeting of the House of Representatives that will not be remembered for the electricity of the debate or the length of the deliberations. Indeed, with Dean Barrow and Michael Finnegan both out of the country, it was left to Cayo West’s Erwin Contreras to man the lone opposition seat for the session’s scant two hour duration. But while the setting may have been unremarkable, the legislation introduced will, when enacted, have far reaching effects. The main purpose of the meeting was National Health Insurance, a concept that has been debated in the press, but not in the legislature. By introducing the bill in the House, Budget Minister Ralph Fonseca initiated the legal process that will radically change the way Belizeans protect their most important asset.

Ralph Fonseca, Minister of Budget Planning

“We believe that quality health care is the birth right of all Belizeans. Access to health care should be determined by a persons health needs, and not by the size of his or her pockets. The state has a duty to provide all persons high or low, young or old, affluent or indigent, access to modern health care technology at affordable cost. This bill madam speaker, represents a giant step forward in improving and augmenting the provision of health services in the country. It is based on equity and justice a National Health Service system is the modern way and the order of the day to cater to the health needs of the people. We cannot lag behind other developing countries in this important respect.”

During a break in this morning’s session Fonseca spoke to News Five’s Stewart Krohn about the plan, which will greatly expand the public’s access to affordable care…but at the same time will take a big chunk out the payrolls of workers and their employers.

Ralph Fonseca

“The average Belizean cannot afford to go to the private sector for quality health care. What we are doing today is keeping our promise in our manifesto to be sure that every Belizean, rich or poor, young or old, has access to the best health care that’s available in Belize. This is the goal, this is what we are trying to achieve. The only way that we can do it, it to put together a scheme, where those who can afford to pay for some insurance will pay. Those who cannot afford, will be paid for by the government Belize. But at the end of the day, we are pooling our resources, contracting out the services to the very best in Belize and making it available to every Belizean.”

Stewart Krohn

“Does the diversion of that large amount of money out of the pockets of employees and employers also represent a positive factor for the nation’s financial system in terms of cash flow for government and savings rate?”

Ralph Fonseca

“Yes certainly. It is a savings and it’s a savings being direct to a particular investment, which is for the good of all of us. There is nothing more important than to us apart from our souls, than our physical health. And this is what we are trying to deal with by pooling all of our resources, we are attracting savings to an investment to take care of exactly that, our very own health.”

Fonseca told News Five that the NHI pilot project, financed by the Inter-American Development Bank, will begin next month and that in order to satisfy IDB requirements, the legislation had to at least be introduced in the legislature. The bill will now go to committee, where all segments of society will be free to make representation and propose amendments. Depending on the outcome of the pilot study and the nature of the final bill, the full NHI scheme could begin implementation by the new year.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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