Inniss not fazed
MINISTER?OF?HEALTH Donville Inniss says he will not be deterred by criticism over reforms of the health care system – even if it costs him votes at the next general election.
“Too much of the taxpayers’ money is at stake,” he said, adding that there would not be any “reverse of policy” with regard to health care reforms.
His comments came against the background of continuing public debate over the inability of non-nationals to access “free health care”, as well as recently introduced changes to the Barbados Drug Service.
Inniss said it was not the fault of his ministry that some people who might have been living in Barbados for 20 or more years – but did not have status – did not qualify for “free” health care.
“This is an immigration issue, not a health issue,” he said, adding that while some of these non-nationals might have Barbados identification cards, it did not mean they would qualify to access health care as a Barbadian would.
“There are people who may come into Barbados for a few weeks, a few years or several years and have ID cards, but it does not mean that they have citizenship or permanent residence,” he told the SUNDAY SUN in an exclusive interview.
“That is an immigration issue, and while my ministry is working with the Immigration Department to try to get this issue resolved, I want to make it clear that if you have a Barbados ID, but not citizenship, you do not necessarily qualify.
“I am aware that some of these people with IDs have been allowed to vote in the past, and even have money deducted in taxes, and it is not their fault that they have not gained the requisite status, but it is not the duty of health officials to determine if they obtained status.
Health care not free
“Health care in Barbados is not free as some people put it. It may be the best in the Caribbean, but currently it is costing taxpayers more than $400 million a year, and I have been asked to review the system and I am doing just that – for the benefit of everyone – now and in the future.”
The St James South Member of Parliament said there were non-nationals in his constituency who had lived here for several years, but because of tardiness in the Immigration Department, they were yet to get citizenship.
“But I am more concerned about the future of the next generation than the next general election,” he said.
At the same time, he said Government also had to deal with the issue of fraud, noting that there were cases where parents with children bearing non-picture IDs might “lend” such documents to non-nationals in order for them to access the health service.
In any event, Inniss said he was not introducing a “new policy”, just ensuring it would be enforced.
In the interim, however, he said the ministry was engaging in discussions with the Immigration Department and the minister reponsible for immigration matters to try to streamline the process.