Industry can do more to prevent NCDs

It has been established that the country’s health care costs are a burden on the state – the National Insurance Fund last year paid out $22 million to around 22 000 people. And while we are assured by the Prime Minister that the Fund is secure, it is a sign of the times of just how much illness can cost, especially considering that Health Minister John Boyce has repeatedly shared statistics on the spate of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Barbados, the most recent that 80 per cent of deaths in Barbados are attributable to NCDs.

In addition to the National Insurance Scheme, persons who can afford it opt for private individual or group medical coverage. However, in some cases, the amount of premiums paid can total more than annual house or motor insurance, but persons often decide to keep their plans ‘just in case’ the worst happens. This can be challenging for the consumer.

Health care is a right that all should enjoy; this holds especially true when a paying service is involved. While the burden of care is on the consumer to monitor his or her health as best as possible, the customer-provider relationship is one that should be maximised for the optimal result – the best health of the patient.

The health and insurance industries stress preventative care, healthy lifestyles and exercise – as they should. Perhaps it is time to expand just how far preventative care reaches and how insurance companies should treat it.

Conventional wisdom posits that one medical examination per year is necessary for an adequate snapshot of the state of a person’s health. That seems to be the case with prostate checks, pap smears and mammograms, for example, where an annual test or check-up every two-years (in low-risk cases) is deemed satisfactory because of how slowly those conditions can develop. The timing of these check-ups, of course, varies according to the person and the recommendations of their doctor.

However, when a client receives insurance coverage for only one general examination per year – particularly of glucose levels or blood pressure etc. – it is a little puzzling, given the aforementioned facts relating to the severity of NCD-related deaths. Surely, those conditions, especially among those who are at high risk, require more specialised attention and therefore more reimbursable, preventative care?

We believe that, for the insurance agencies to effectively help their clients manage their conditions, they should freely distribute the relevant monitoring machinery to their high-risk clients, with full education on how to operate them. This can take the form of glucose testing equipment and blood pressure monitoring kits, educational forums on their operation and when to consult medical attention – a life-saving measure, considering that those in high-risk situations have to take their readings daily. Alternately, the industry can expand the number of medical examinations per annum that are designated under preventative care benefits to allow their clients the facility to recover monies spent on doctor’s visits for optimal health.

We hold no brief for those clients who have been told by their medical practitioner of the severity of their health issues and simply do not bother to change course. However, if we are to spark a change in NCDs in this country, the profile of the insurance provider-client relationship must change to focus more on aggressively promoting prevention.

Barbados Advocate

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