Roberts agrees with ‘sugary drink tax’

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – While Bahamian manufacturers have warned that the proposed sin tax on sugary drinks will be detrimental to their businesses, Super Value President Rupert Roberts said he believes the tax is a good funding mechanism for National Health Insurance (NHI) and a necessary measure to change the consumption habits of Bahamians.

Health officials estimate that more than 47,000 people in The Bahamas are pre-diabetic and an estimated 50,000-plus people are diabetic, a doubling in the last decade.

“These things will wean us off,” Roberts told Eyewitness News Online.

“Let’s have healthy items [made] inexpensive and make the stuff that’s unhealthy you have to pay more for it.

“I think that will change our habits.”

As part of its revamped NHI scheme, which focuses on expanded primary care and high-cost care, the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) has proposed a ‘sugary drink tax’ to help fund the scheme by July.

While the rate of the tax has yet to be determined, the authority will look to existing models in countries such as Barbados and the United Kingdom to help form its recommendation to Cabinet.

Minister of Health Dr. Duane Sands said he believes the government could raise between $4 million and $6 million by taxing at a rate equivalent to 10 cents per can of soda.

NHIA Chairman Dr. Robin Roberts said the pushback is expected from soft drink manufacturers, but consumers must be incentivized from consumption as a matter of public health.

He said while purchase of sugary drinks may decrease, purchase of other beverages should increase.

The Super Value president agreed with the NHIA and Sands.

“I agree with Dr. Roberts and I agree with Dr. Sands and we [must] make changes,” he said.

“All of these changes will help make us afford the National Health Insurance plan.”

Super Value switched from a group health insurance plan for its executives and line-staff employees to a self-insured health plan three years ago, according to Roberts.

The grocery store franchise has more than 1,000 employees.

The authority has also proposed a two per cent payroll deduction to fund the universal healthcare scheme.

It has estimated that employees will pay two per cent of their salary to a maximum of $42 per month, with the employer paying the balance of the premium.

The NHIA believes the standard health benefit (SHB), a basic level of healthcare coverage under NHI, will cost $1,000 per person annually.

“Three years ago, we switched and we took the money we were paying [for a] health plan for about 150 executives, and we had, what I joked and called an Obama plan where we paid for doctors’ visits and so on,” Roberts said.

“We took all that money and we put it in the kitty and we said okay, now we are going to pay major medical for our 1,000 employees. It has worked so well for three years and we have a couple of million [dollars] in reserve.

“So, I hope they leave us alone and let us stay with our own plan, and not make us contribute to [NHI].”

Roberts said Super Value has a vested interest in keeping its employees healthy.

He said the company has paid for heart surgery and cancer treatment and it still has substantial insurance reserves.

The revamped NHI will cost taxpayers an estimated $100 million a year.

The authority has been engaged in consultations with stakeholders, including civic society and the unions.

Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis said the government will seek the views of the electorate on the proposed payroll deduction before deciding on the matter.