Minister Lee: Working diligently towards providing quality health care is the right step

Minister of Health, Social Affairs and Labour Emil Lee


PHILIPSBURG – Minister of Health, Social Development and Labor Emil Lee addressed members of the media in Wednesday’s, July 12, Council of Ministers Press Briefing.

He noted that his Ministry is working on “a couple of developments that I think are worthy to highlight.” First, he congratulated GEBE and the Department of Labor Affairs and Social Development on signing an MOU “geared towards identifying members of our community that would enter into a training program run by GEBE with the end idea of giving them the skills and training to make them eventually employable.”

He also informed that he had conversations with management from Rainforest Adventures and feedback on the job fair was very positive. “There was a good turnout and expectations are that almost all of the positions that they’re looking to be filled. That they believe that they’ve identified people locally that can fill the positions with the exception perhaps of a couple of top managerial positions, understanding that their operation might be technical and specific,” Minister Lee said.

“I made a request that if they’re bringing in trainers and they’re doing customer service training for their staff, obviously they’re looking for somewhere between 60 to 80 positions to be filled, would they consider making those training opportunities available for others, even if not directly planned to be employees, and they said they would certainly be willing to make their training opportunities available to those, even if they’re not going into the employment directly for Rainforest Adventures, and so I think that’s a very positive step,” the Minister continued.

“As Minister, I would like to see a stronger partnership in terms of how, from the Ministry of Labor, we can work together with the unions to again develop other training programs in the end making our people more marketable, more employable. I think those are all very positive developments,” he said.

Another topic he touched on was ongoing work on a National Health Insurance. “We talk about universal health coverage, but there are some terms in here that we need to also expound on. For example we talk about equity in access to health care services and what we’re talking about is that everyone who needs service should be able to get access to them, not only those that can pay. The quality of health care services should be good enough to improve the health of those receiving the services and people should be protected against financial risk, ensuring that the cost of the services does not put people at risk of financial harm. And these are things that all the members of our community, I don’t think have any problems to agree on,” the Minister stated.

“The question about we should have access to health care, quality health care, is undeniable. The question becomes define quality, define access and of course, the difficult question of how do you fund it. Fact is that health care costs globally are increasing all the time and as technologies and new medications become available, those costs for health care only continue to increase. As a matter of fact it increases at a rate higher than the inflation rate,” Minister Lee explained.

“St. Maarten is a country with limited financial resources, so structuring our health care system, our health insurance system, is a critical way of managing the quality and also the efficiency, the effectiveness and also the costs…So if we can synchronize those funds into one uniform fund it would obviously make operational expenses less, which means that more money would be available to spend in health care,” he said.

“In St. Maarten many of us are aware there’s too many people who don’t have access to affordable health insurance…If you come into St. Maarten and the private insurance that you can purchase very often will put caps on how much they will service or perhaps even exclude treatments. So ultimately what happens is when people have severe health issues, it becomes a financial burden to the government eventually. So that financial burden that the government has to absorb eventually comes back to the people in forms of other taxes,” Minister Lee further explained.

According to the Minister, “We are fairly far in the process. We’re in consultation with a number of different stakeholders over the past year. The conversations are difficult, they’re heated conversations. And it is a time-consuming process. I’ve learned over the past year and a half that politics is the art of building consensus and dialogue, and that’s what we’ve been doing. So while we’re working on the National Health Insurance and trying to find the happy medium in terms of what’s acceptable, I think it’s important that the public realizes that the way things are continuing right now cannot continue.”

“We need to structure our health care sector from all aspects. A new hospital is just a building. We need to improve the quality of care, but we need to improve the access to care, we need to improve how we finance it,” Minister Lee continued.

“I think taxing people’s salaries for health care isn’t sustainable. I think we need to look at some form of broader taxation. Some people, for example in Aruba, they have a health tax, which is like a turnover tax. So it means that all the tourists, all the visitors to the island contribute financially to our health care system as well,” the Minister further explained.

“Taking a structural approach, working towards providing quality health care and how we finance it, is the right step for the country. It’s something we’re working on diligently,” Minister Lee concluded.