The health minister said very little about the pressing issue of health insurance costs when he spoke for almost two hours on Monday during the debate on the Unity government’s $2 billion budget.
Despite having some of the most intractable problems of any minister, including garbage collection failures and the increasing struggle many face to get health cover, Dwayne Seymour spent a good deal of time focused on culture, one of his less controversial responsibilities.
The minister said nothing about the proposed changes to the National Conservation Law, his future policy position on the environment in general, or when the marine park enhancements would be put in place.
During the visit by Prince Charles in March this year, Seymour made much of his announcement that Cabinet had finally approved the marine park expansion proposals that the Department of Environment has been pushing for almost a decade. But the minister has never mentioned an implementation date since.
At the time, the royal visitor commended the minister for that announcement, but eight months later the enhancements are still not in place and there was no indication in the minister’s speech when he plans to roll out the much needed additional marine protections.
Seymour also said very little about the situation at the dump and government’s more than two year negotiations with the Dart-led consortium that is supposed to be tackling the country’s waste-management problems. He said that progress had been made in the negotiations towards a final contract and he expected work to start on remediating part of the George Town landfill in the New Year.
However, Seymour said nothing about the details of the contract and did not respond to Ezzard Miller’s comments in his contribution to the budget debate that the final contract could be as much as $40 million more than the price in the tender bid.
The health minister spoke briefly about rubbish collection and said that eleven new garbage trucks had been ordered, and they will be delivered in early 2020. This, he said, would help to make collection more efficient. He said there were plans to expand recycling, and while he did not detail what they were, he said the Department of Environmental Health was buying some small processors.
Seymour gave very little new policy information about one of the most important challenges his ministry faces, which is making healthcare more affordable. He said his ministry would be working on lowering health costs but said nothing about how that would happen or what he planned to do about the increasing cost of health insurance. He made no mention of the CINICO review or if any further consideration had been given to the concept of a single-pay system.
He also failed to update his colleagues on the work and the money spent on consultants over the last year to introduce a SHIC plan specifically for the elderly, which the premier had hinted had been abandoned when he delivered the Budget Policy Statement.
In June Seymour had voiced his support for free healthcare for all children in Cayman during a debate on a private member’s motion, brought by opposition member Chris Saunders, asking for government to look at how it could be achieved. The motion was accepted and Seymour claimed at the time that the ministry was already looking seriously at this proposal. He said he had campaigned on the issue and that it was “very near and dear to me”.
But less than six months later, as he outlined what his ministry would be doing for the next two years, Seymour made no comment on the issue. Instead, he spoke about pressing ahead with the satellite hospital in Bodden Town, explaining that consultants had recommended it as a way to help meet increasing demand.
The minister revealed that some of the services provided at the George Town hospital would be moved to the Smith Road building to help alleviate the pressure on the main campus.
He also said there would be a greater focus on mental health, with plans to introduce a unit for adolescents’ mental health care.