EDITORIAL: Brainstorm on problems of ageing society
THE NEWS LAST WEEK that the Insurance Corporation of Barbados Limited (ICBL) cancelled its medical insurance coverage of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), in effect leaving almost 2 000 employed public officers and their retired colleagues in limbo, points in many ways to the complexities of today’s economy and society.
When this is juxtaposed against the decision of the same ICBL to drop coverage of the several thousand senior Barbadians who had enrolled under the Barbados Association of Retired Persons’ (BARP) policy, the size of the problem becomes more stark.
ICBL is a business entity with shareholder interests to satisfy, and it would be unreasonable to ask those responsible to continue in a business arrangement that is not to the financial benefit or advantage of the company.
And while there will be the tendency to conclude that just as there was a time when the corporation was making money from the venture, it can’t be unreasonable to ask them to absorb some losses in challenging times, in the final analysis someone still has to say when enough is enough.
What is clear is that two factors that have been high on the national discussion agenda for some time played a part in this – the ageing of our population and the contracting of the Civil Service both for efficiency and cost-saving purposes. And they are both issues with which we still have to deal in substantial ways.
As the age profile of our population changes, with more Barbadians living longer, a consequence of that will be that the society has to deal with more health issues simply because the older one lives, the more one becomes subject to the illnesses that are associated with an ageing body. Unfortunately, if there are not private schemes in place to which individuals subscribe, an increased burden will fall on the state.
When a substantial number of young people are unemployed or delay employment in favour of education, largely because of limitations in the job market, schemes such as that operated by the NUPW through ICBL become less viable. If there continues to be a steady stream of new, healthy entrants to the scheme, the ageing of long-standing members will not have the kind of negative impact that has apparently brought the arrangement to its knees.
But it also brings to the table again the need for a robust debate on some kind of compulsory national health insurance scheme since such an arrangement is more likely to capture a much wider demographic, in the process allowing for a more financially balanced scheme, with fresh young entrants joining constantly to compensate for the demands of the ageing.
While the NUPW has not spoken to it, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that Civil Service retrenchment on the scale we had over the last three years, compounded by very limited hiring at the same time, contributed to the lack of viability in its health insurance scheme. And when a last-in, first-out convention is employed in determining who is retrenched, the unintended consequence is that older more vulnerable workers remain, while the younger and more robust exit the scheme when they leave the service.
It is all these factors and more that complicate the equation and should stir us into sensible non-partisan discussion that leads to prudent actions for the benefit of the entire population.