During the budget debate last May, Bahamians learned that the government had tabled a visionary proposal to promote the development of the health sector as an additional vehicle for economic growth. The proposed Medical Care Improvement Bill, 2011 aims to allow medical providers to import the highest level of technology in medical equipment and other required materials to ensure that world-class medical care can be offered to Bahamians, visitors and medical tourists. The incentives the bill provides would also contribute to reducing the cost of medical care for Bahamians, which is already among the highest in the world. The bill would have allowed medical providers the same rights that hotel and resort developers have enjoyed for years, thus contributing to the growth of the tourism industry.
Unfortunately, the bill's approval has been delayed for a lack of bi-partisan support. Some comments have even gone so far as to advocate for a full refund on duties paid in the past for medical equipment in order to "level the playing field". This would clearly be contradictory to previous efforts to create incentive regimes to allow Bahamians access to better technology. We never heard of anyone asking for a refund when they bought a computer or energy efficient product before the government had the vision to abolish import duties on such goods.
Healthcare is a vital and very necessary service and the cost of new technology is escalating exponentially. Even those earlier investors some day are likely to want to expand facilities or replace obsolete equipment and would benefit from such legislation. As a result of the negative perspective of these special interests, the official opposition in Parliament has not indicated its support of the bill and it faces the threat of floundering before elections later this year.
Rather than supporting the initiative to fuel economic growth with new initiatives in medical tourism and efforts by the medical community to ensure that Bahamians have access to world-class technology, the lack of support for the bill puts us on track to remain stuck in the past with out-dated technology and retrograde thinking that will ensure that dynamic entrepreneurs in the medical sector will never choose The Bahamas for future investments. Our country can never go forward if this level of narrow and backward thinking is allowed to prevail.
Today millions of dollars in investments are targeting medical tourism in the Caribbean. The creation of incentives and a welcoming climate for investment in the medical sector would put us on track to compete with other medical tourism destinations and ensure that The Bahamas continues to draw the majority of the investment money that is available. Failure to approve the bill will surely shift those investments elsewhere or stall them forever.
Putting Bahamians first, when it comes to medical technology and the development of medical tourism, will require a shift away from selfish and partisan attitudes that threaten our economic expansion and diversification. Investment in the medical sector offers exciting opportunities to diversify the Bahamian economy, expand jobs, and improve our healthcare system. Our two primary industries are fragile at best and very vulnerable to external forces over which we have no control. We have seen the oil spills, sensationalized crime and many more events which cause serious downturns in tourist arrivals.
We need to look forward, not back, and strongly support any and all fiscal and monetary efforts focused on advancing economic diversification and transferring wealth into Bahamian hands. The world will pass us by if excellent initiatives such as the Medical Care Improvement Bill remain tied-up by special interests protecting individual interests rather than looking at how to put Bahamians first.
Let's get behind this bill and encourage this government, or any government, to provide incentives and to facilitate any and all initiatives designed to revive our slumping gross domestic product (GDP) and to decrease our dependency on external medical providers while simultaneously preserving our scarce foreign reserves.
- Barrett McCartney, M.D.
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