Social Security Minister with portfolio responsibility for the National Health Insurance (NHI), Vincent Wheatley has expressed shock at reports that the government has put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a special group insurance plan for members of the House of Assembly (HOA).
During a recent interview on the JTV, the minister was asked about his thoughts on the weekend protest after news surfaced about of the controversial insurance plan that seeks to circumvent the NHI and offer legislators coverage for cosmetic surgery (in the event of an accident), alcoholism and substance abuse rehabilitation, among other things.
Minister Wheatley said he saw the protest but was “a bit confused” as to what the protesters were talking about.
He said he subsequently did some research but couldn’t find anything on the issue but was later reminded that there had been an informal meeting between House Members to investigate the possibility of private insurance for some members.
“Why it ended up in the public, I don’t know, because it never came back for us to say yea or nay,” Minister Wheatley said.
“There has been no decision made about anything … I was shocked to see it,” the Labour Minister said.
“I’m as shocked as you are,” he told the host about the disclosure.
The minister further said the issue was still in its exploratory stages and had not gone to Cabinet either so he was unsure what may have caused it to be revealed.
Opposition Members disappointed
Wheatley’s statement comes as Opposition legislators have expressed disappointment and concern regarding the RFP’s disclosure, adding that HOA members had not reached any consensus to allow the House to issue the notice.
The Opposition said a Steering Group had been established to examine the issue of supplementary health care for current and former members.
Members were reportedly assured that the Steering Group needed the concurrence of the lead member Melvin ‘Mitch’ Turnbull, who was required to provide a report to the HOA informing members on whether a proposal to procure private healthcare insurance was ready for tender, along with recommendations on how to proceed.
According to the Opposition, the proposal before the Steering Group for review included benefits that were neither a part of nor discussed in the informal meeting.
The Opposition further said that particular concern was expressed about the proposal for life insurance benefit.
“As such, we agreed that we could no longer support the proposal which had now gone beyond its intended purpose,” the Opposition members said.
Whilst they empathised with the original objectives for exploring the issue and the proposal, the Opposition said they believe “it is not wise to advance matters of such serious implications without full and due consideration.”
The group issued a recall of the RFP and strongly urged the HOA to recognise that it is neither appropriate nor desirable to continue with the initiative in its current form.
Malone says Opposition duplicitous
Health Minister Carvin Malone has dismissed the Opposition’s statement as “fake news”.
In an early-morning WhatsApp blast on Tuesday, Malone said: I am appalled by the duplicitous announcements by the Opposition who now seek to distance themselves from the facts surrounding the tender notice to provide insurance coverage. Not surprised; appalled!”
He further said the government intends to respond today.
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