We welcome the news that the government is moving positively again on the question of universal health care (UHC). This was one of the few bright spots in the Prime Minister’s recent New Year address, when he proposed a bipartisan parliamentary committee to review the financing options for the plan.
This week, the government announced it had engaged the services of consultants from the European Union to research options for the future financing of the island’s health care system.
On both counts, therefore, it appears that we are beginning to see movement on what is becoming more and more the biggest social imperative in St Lucia at this time: the need for affordable health care for all the people. Of course, universal health care has been mooted in St Lucia for several years and some action has been taken by both this and former governments.
Universal health care, like most social projects in which government is involved, tends to be quite politically controversial, so it is pleasing to note that on this occasion, the current proposals have received some input from the public. To quote the chief planner in the Ministry of Health this week, the initiative is in response to what the people of St. Lucia said they needed.
Organizing a successful universal health care programme is no Sunday afternoon picnic. Indeed, health experts are quick to point out both the pros and cons of such an initiative. UHC is in effect, health care that’s paid for or subsidized by the government or by the state.
Over the years many developed and developing countries have offered some form of universal health care for their citizens. The main advantage of this type of health care is it gives people who can’t afford health care the services they need, and we know from prevailing conditions that this is quite relevant to St Lucia at this time. Health care in our country is pretty expensive to access and people have actually died without it. UHC, we believe, will allow basic health services for all citizens. In essence it would not discriminate against anyone. It would help those that aren’t employed or have other difficulties, in getting health care when they need it the most.
But UHC also has some downsides. From the bureaucracy that comes with government control to long waiting lines for patients at health institutions and abuse of the system by persons seeking care and attention for conditions which do not require a visit to the hospital, a successful UHC programme will depend heavily on the patience, cooperation and discipline of our people as much as the resources that the government is prepared to put into the system to make it work. As well, those who will benefit from it will have to help pay for it.
But St Lucia needs a UHC at this time and it would be a feather in the government’s cap if it pulls it off.