By Horace Mills, BVI News Online Staff
While declaring that it has no clue how much money it is owed by delinquents, the management of the National Health Insurance (NHI) is contradicting its earlier report that benefits to employees were being suspended as a push-back against delinquency.
In December last year, Deputy Director of the NHI Roy Barry said the state-owned entity had started to act on its threat to suspend employees whose bosses were not making the requisite monthly contributions to NHI.
That announcement triggered a firestorm of criticism as persons noted that it is illegal to suspend benefits to employees when – under the law – the bosses are the ones required to pay over the monthly contributions.
When the NHI Board eventually appeared before the Standing Finance Committee of parliament recently, Barry told lawmakers about the ‘inability’ of the NHI to suspend employees and their benefits.
In a report tabled in the House of Assembly yesterday, the Standing Finance Committee said: “The Deputy Director (Barry) indicated that the challenges [facing the NHI] were the sustainability of the system, being faced with some chronic defaulters, and the inability to suspend payment [of benefits] to employees although their employers were delinquent…”
Legislative amendment proposed
Further, Director of the NHI Ms Antoinette Skelton told the Standing Finance Committee that there is a ‘loophole’ in the current legislation.
She wants it plugged.
Paraphrasing Ms Skelton, the Committee reports: “The Director indicated that [pursuing outstanding contributions] was part of the work plan for 2017, as well as strengthening of the legislation, as there were employers who have never paid… However, [Mrs Skelton said] there exists a loophole in the legislation that prevents Social Security Board [which controls NHI] from suspending persons’ accounts.”
Ms Skelton further told the parliamentary committee that letters have been written to the delinquent employers, but NHI ‘never received a response’.
However, she said the NHI Board is ‘intending to seek criminal action against the employers’.
The parliamentary committee further reports: “The Director (Ms Skelton) stated that the persons who were not paying NHI were the same persons who were not paying Social Security.”
Doesn’t know how much is owed
Meanwhile, Chairman of the NHI Ian Smith indicated to the parliamentary committee that the NHI does not know how much money it is owed.
The committee reports: “The Chairman (Smith) indicated that the receivables (monies owed) would not offer a true picture as they (members of the NHI Board) did not have the figures from the defaulters.”
In response, Minister of Health Ronnie Skelton underscored the importance of knowing the amount of money owed to the NHI.
According to the Standing Finance Committee report: “The Minister of Health and Social Development stated that, somewhere along the line, there needed to be an estimate of the level of receivables in order to know what is being dealt with. If it is $100,000 then it would not really put the system in jeopardy. But if it was $4 million to $5 million, then the [parliamentary] committee needed to know.”
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