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NHF OFFICIALLY LAUNCHED BY THE HON. PRIME MINISTER

The National Health Fund was officially launched on Friday, November 28, 2003 by the Prime Minister, Most Hon. P.J. Patterson.

The Prime Minister, in his speech commended the Minister of Health, and CEO of the NHF for their hard work in getting the NHF started. In expressing his confidence in the success of the NHF the Prime Minister said, ?As we embark on this new phase in the provision of health care services to our people, I have every confidence that the National Health Fund will make a significant difference to the health and well being of our people, with all the resulting social and economic benefits?.

Several beneficiaries were presented with their NHF membership cards by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health at the ceremony.

The ceremony was attended by Members of Parliament, Senior Directors from the Ministry of Health and other Ministries, members of the Diplomatic Corps, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Distributors and other healthcare Providers and NHF beneficiaries.

The Launch ceremony was preceded by a Health exposition, which had display booths set up by various governmental and non-governmental healthcare organisations. Presentations were also done on various health topics and the public had health checks done at very minimal charges.

NATIONAL HEALTH FUND HOSTS HEALTH FAIR

The National Health Fund will be hosting a Health Fair at the National Arena on Friday, November 28. The Health Fair begins at 10:00am and culminates with the Official Launch Ceremony at 4:30pm. Prime Minister, the Most Honourable P.J. Patterson, will be the keynote speaker at the Official Launch Ceremony.

The Health Fair is free to the public and comprises over 28 display booths and exhibitions by various governmental and non-governmental healthcare organizations as well as presentations by noted doctors on topics such as diabetes, cardiovascular, mental health and respiratory diseases.

The public will be able to have several checks done at minimal charges. These include blood pressure checks, blood sugar tests, cholesterol tests and eye screening tests.

The Mission of the National Health Fund is to reduce the burden on healthcare in Jamaica.

Contact: Rosemarie Lee, tel. 906-1106

November 28,2003

NHF BILL PASSED IN PARLIAMENT

The Bill entitled the National Health Fund Act was passed in Parliament on Tuesday October 28, 2003 and is to go to the Senate soon.

The Bill seeks to establish a public health fund managed and controlled by a statutory body to be known as the National Health Fund.

The Bill also provides for the establishment of a Board of Management of the NHF, which will have responsibility for overseeing the Fund and its provision of health benefits for persons having chronic illnesses.

The NHF provides pharmaceutical benefits for patients suffering from arthritis, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, prostate cancer, breast cancer, glaucoma, hypertension, major depression, psychosis, ischaemic heart disease, rheumatic fever heart disease, vascular disease and high cholesterol and provides financial support for private and governmental healthcare institutions.

The Bill was debated with contributions from Government MPs Horace Dalley, Drs. Neil McGill, Patrick Harris and Morais Guy and Mr. Lenford Blake.

Opposition spokesperson on health, Dr. Ken Baugh opened the debate and was supported with contributions from MPs Karl Samuda, Oliver ?Babsy? Grange and Audley Shaw.

Minister of Health Hon. John Junor closed the debate.

NHF HANDS OVER COMPUTERS AND PHARMACEUTICAL EQUIPMENT TO WRHA

Refurbished pharmacies, computers with software and pharmaceutical equipment valued J$4.8 million were officially handed over to the Western Regional Health Authority (WRHA) recently.

The Hand-Over Ceremony was held at Falmouth Hospital and attended by health officials across the region, friends of the Falmouth Hospital, representatives from the political directorate and a team from the NHF, led by Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Rae Barrett.

The donation is part of the mandate by the National Health Fund (NHF) in provide support to the public health system. The NHF is providing support to public sector pharmacies to ensure that they improve the quality of their services to the public and are able to handle the increased volume of patients and meet the standards required to provide this expanded service.

NATIONAL HEALTH FUND PAYS OUT ON TIME

ANXIOUS to prove it will not starve participating pharmacies of cash, the state-run National Health Fund (NHF) on Thursday paid over its first reimbursement cheque, seven days after it received the invoice.

Health Minister John Junor himself handed over the cheque to Maureen Hemmings, pharmacist and proprietor of the Waltham Park Pharmacy in Kingston, sending a clear signal to pharmacies which have so far adopted a wait-and-see approach, because of fears that the fund would tie up already cash-hungry businesses by not paying on time.

The $2.2-billion National Health Fund holds out the prospect of making health insurance available to a wide group of over 70,000 adults and children, most not covered by private sector-run schemes. The fund covers some 14 chronic illnesses and access to over 70 drugs.

In all, some 71 pharmacies islandwide have signed onto the health insurance scheme, significantly funded by a 23 per cent so-called 'sin' tax on tobacco products, which is expected to generate $1 billion; with the balance coming from a $400-million injection from the Ministry of Finance and $800 million from a reconfiguration of the National Insurance Scheme (NIS).

As she accepted the history-making cheque from Junor, Hemmings, clearly relieved, welcomed the fund as offering "help to the poorest folks" and promised to promote the advantages of subscribing to the NHF.

Hemmings' enthusiasm is not yet shared by some pharmacies which cite bad experiences in the past with getting money in a timely manner from health insurers.

Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica president, Paul C Lindsay, on the eve of the start-up of the fund, said pharmacies were mostly in favour of it, but were cautious because they could not afford to tie up cash beyond a turnaround time of 10 days.

The NHF has a turnaround time of seven days for claims submitted electronically, while those done manually will take significantly longer.

"So far, only one pharmacy has indicated that it will be submitting manual claims, so we anticipate a smooth system," NHF public information officer, Rosemarie Lee, told the Sunday Observer.

Another critical concern of pharmacists is the impact the NHF could have on the cost of retail drugs. Beneficiaries' payments will be determined by the cost of the drug, a move that will likely lead to an increase in the use of cheaper generic drugs, as well as more discriminatory purchasing habits.

However, the portion of the drug cost that the NHF will cover will remain the same, regardless of the sale price.

At the cheque presentation, Junor sought to assure participating pharmacies that they had done the right thing. He said the fund was now well established and that pharmacies were the actual "point of control" at which the exchange of information critical to the care and monitoring of chronic illnesses would take place.

Junor's message was also aimed at pharmacies such as the popular Liguanea Drug and Garden Centre in Kingston which has not signed onto the National Health Fund and is yet to be convinced about the efficacy of payment under the Government-funded scheme.

"The fund is a wonderful programme if it works," admitted Shirley Murray, pharmacist at the centre. But she had fears about difficulties in collecting payments from the Government for drugs which pharmacies purchased often on 30-day credit terms and thereby exposed themselves to financial risk.

She cited the case of Barbados where she said a similar programme had failed because of difficulties pharmacists had in collecting from the Government.

"The problem, as I understand it, is that the Government sets the benchmark price for brand 'X' drug, which they use as a format for pricing other brands which the subscriber may choose, whether it is more expensive or not. If it costs more, the pharmacist is exposed to a loss as they cannot recover the difference from the Government," she said.

But Rae Barrett, CEO of the fund, countered that "we don't get into what the pharmacist charges, it's a market system. We accept the market system and we have tried to direct the benefits straight through the market to the patient."

PHARMACY SOFTWARE PROVIDERS CERTIFIED FOR NHF

Pharmacy Software Providers, Hugh Myrie & Associates and AEJ & Associates have been certified as conforming with the required specification outlined by the National Health Fund (NHF) for processing NHF benefits. The Providers were certified by Advanced Integrated Systems (AIS), which is contracted by the NHF to provide transaction processing services. All claims to the NHF will be adjudicated by AIS.

The Pharmacy Software computerises all aspects of pharmacy operations and provide real time processing of NHF claims. This will enable Providers to know immediately if beneficiaries are qualified to receive benefits. Public Sector pharmacies are also installing these systems to improve their service to the public.

NHF Provider pharmacies will have to acquire the updated Pharmacy Software from the vendors to be able to process NHF Claims. Pharmacies that have registered as providers for the National Health Fund and have not yet updated their system must contact their Software Provider.

The Government has approved the establishment of the National Health Fund, to provide additional financing for healthcare. The Fund will assist individuals to meet the cost of filling prescriptions for specified chronic illnesses. It will also provide financial assistance for primary health care through a Health Promotion and Protection Fund for private and public sector organisations and a Health Support Fund for the public sector.

The NHF provides assistance to persons who are certified by a registered private or public doctor as having one or more of the specified medical conditions, and who register with the NHF. Once approved, the beneficiary is issued with a NHF card and will be able to obtain assistance with purchase of drugs from approved participating pharmacies. The NHF pays a fixed contribution to the price set by the pharmacy for drugs approved by the NHF. The beneficiary is required to pay the difference.

GG WELCOMES START-UP OF NATIONAL HEALTH FUND

Governor General, His Excellency Sir Howard Cooke has welcomed the start-up of the National Health Fund (NHF) and commended everyone who have toiled hard and long to bring the project to fruition.

The Governor General?s comments came at a courtesy call on Lady Cooke and himself, on August 5,2003 by a team from the National Health Fund and Advanced Integrated Systems (AIS).

Sir Howard said that he has had a keen interest in a National Health Insurance Plan from as way back as 1972, when he as Minister of Government with responsibility for Pension and Social Security, first became aware of the concept and what it would mean for the Jamaican population.

?I believe it is important for persons to be healthy to be able to effectively conduct their daily duties ?, the Governor General said.

Mr. Barrett gave detailed information on the NHF, while Mr. Douglas Halsall, CEO, Advanced Integrated Systems explained how the transaction processing system and the adjudication of claims will work. All claims to the NHF will be adjudicated by AIS.

For further information contact: Rosemarie Lee, tel. 906-1106

NHF READY FOR DELIVERY OF BENEFITS

National Health Fund (NHF) Provider pharmacies that have had their computerisation system upgraded to process NHF claims, can now accept NHF Cards from their clients. Pharmacies that have registered as providers and have not yet upgraded their system must contact their Software Provider.
The Pharmacy Software computerises all aspects of pharmacy operations and provides real time processing of NHF claims. This will enable Providers to know immediately if beneficiaries are qualified to receive benefits.

The EOJ has advised that 30,000 applications have been received for NHF benefits since registration began on April 28,2003. Over 13,000 membership cards have been distributed to EOJ registration centres islandwide, however, just over 3,000 of these cards have been collected by the applicants. Persons who have applied for benefits should contact the EOJ centres where they submitted their application form, or call
1-888- NHF CARE for information. The list of EOJ registration centres and their telephone numbers will be published in the press.

Pharmacy Software Providers, Hugh Myrie & Associates and AEJ & Associates have been certified as conforming to the required specification outlined by the National Health Fund (NHF) for processing NHF benefits. The Providers were certified by Advanced Integrated Systems (AIS), which is contracted by the NHF to provide transaction processing services. All claims to the NHF will be adjudicated by AIS.

For further information contact: Rosemarie Lee Tel. 906-1106

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