Hundreds of people gathered in a Hamilton city park yesterday in a protest over a controversial plan to overhaul the health insurance system.
Speakers at the event, organised by campaign group Patients 1st, said efforts should be made to improve the existing healthcare system rather than a major change.
Ronda James, a dentist, said she had backed healthcare reform, but felt “bullied” into a healthcare system that focused more on money than its patients.
Dr James added: “All we are getting from the Ministry of Health these days is a push for a single-payer scheme. I’m disappointed.
“The ministry started a conversation that had the potential of making real and positive change for the health of Bermuda.
Dr James explained: “Instead, that conversation has been pushed aside for a scheme that not only doesn’t help to make us healthier, but also takes away our choices and carries the potential of limiting access to healthcare that people may need.”
Dr James added: “These people don’t treat patients, don’t provide patient care and they don’t see a patient suffer.”
She said that doctors were prepared to work with the Government to improve healthcare, but that the medical profession appeared to have been ignored.
Dr James added: “I don’t see how changing my insurance policy is going to improve healthcare. In fact, I see a greater likelihood of it doing the exact opposite.”
Dr James was speaking after the event, held at Queen Elizabeth II Park on Queen Street.
Janie Brown, also a dentist, said a unified health plan is not the same as a universal healthcare plan and that it will not help the 10 per cent of the population that had no health coverage.
She said: “Most of our citizens would have a healthcare plan — I can’t say all because the same 10 per cent would likely not be able to afford the unified plan any more than they can afford HIP.”
Dr Brown added that under a unified health plan the Government would control the cost of premiums and the services provided.
She said: “Most unified healthcare plans have preventive care and emergency care, nothing more.
“All other procedures are paid out of pocket by patients, or through expensive supplemental insurance.
“This type of system requires large sums of money to fund to success, which means heavy taxation.”
Dr Brown added: “We believe we can achieve universal healthcare without dismantling the present system, which works. We want to just make changes to make it better.”
Burton Butterfield, a GP, said: “Bermuda does not need to make wholesale changes to a system that has been working so well.
“Right now, most of us have access to the best of care, we have access to secondary and tertiary care at some of the best institutions in the world.
“Government has been making changes without involving the stakeholders.”
Dr Butterfield added that up to 45 per cent of the island’s healthcare costs were linked to the cost of the acute care wing of the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital.
He said: “The major issue we have, at this particular time, are the few people who have either no insurance or not enough insurance.
“Maybe that’s all that needs to be addressed, at this point in time, instead of wholesale changes to the whole system.”
A spokeswoman for the health ministry said the Government was pleased by the broad support for its proposals.
She added: “This shows that the organisation shares the Government’s goal to ensure everyone in Bermuda can access the healthcare that they need.
“It was encouraging to see a large turnout at the event, as healthcare is a topic which affects everyone, and change in this sphere is something which does, and should involve, all of us. This Government is committed to achieving access to healthcare for all and bringing down the costs of healthcare in Bermuda, which are unsustainable.”
Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, added a speech by Martha Dismont, the executive director of Family Centre and the final speaker at the event, struck a chord with her.
Ms Wilson said: “She highlighted the need to work through differences together.
“I welcome the opportunity to have dialogue, real, actual, meaningful dialogue, with Patients 1st, on our shared goal for universal healthcare.
“I believe we have more in common than differences and, as Mrs Dismont said, we will find the best solutions together.”