Baptists say NHI tax is ill-timed

The Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention said it cannot support the proposed two per cent payroll deduction to fund National Health Insurance at this time as it represents a burden taxpayers cannot bear in an already financially challenged environment.

“Any [further] taxation on the Bahamian people at this time, the Baptist church cannot support,” said Reverend Dr. Lloyd Smith, president of the convention, during a press conference  Thursday at the William Thompson Auditorium on Jean Street.

Smith pointed out that the public has had to face increases in value-added tax (VAT) from 7.5 percent to 12 percent in July and more recently increases in electricity costs as he made the case that taxpayers are stretched to meet their financial obligations.

Reverend Dr. Philip McPhee, vice president of the convention, added that the timing of the announcement was not well thought out.

“I think it is the wrong timing,” he said. “The Bahamas is really going through a tremendous burden financially – I’m talking holistically. I think the announcement of it certainly has not been one that we consider to be well thought of at this present time in our country.”

The National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), in its policy paper released last month, proposed the two percent payroll deduction with an employer contribution component to fund NHI.

It set January 2020 for the launch of the “employer mandate” for employers with more than 100 employees, and January 2021 for all other employers.

The government has said the revamped NHI scheme and its standard health benefit (SHB) package, a minimum package of healthcare that would include expanded primary care and high cost care for certain illnesses, is expected to cost $100 million per year.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said the measure is not set in stone.

Pastor Michael J. Symonette, treasurer of the Baptist convention, said while the group understands taxation may be necessary, the government must consider the timing and fairness of what the authority has proposed.

“We agree in principle that taxation is necessary,” he said. “We understand that, but there is also something called unfair taxation and I think there is also over taxation, and that seems to be where we are in our country – where the taxation comes across as being unfair.”

The authority is engaged in wide consultation with stakeholders and plans to hold a series of town meetings to solicit feedback before making its final recommendations to Cabinet for approval.

Smith noted that the NHIA has yet to engage the Baptist convention on the revamped NHI.

He said once the convention has had an opportunity to speak with the NHIA it will make further recommendations.

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