WEDNESDAY, JULY 11: Good Morning Madam President,
As the Junior Minister of Finance, the ministry which has responsibility for the Government Employee Health Insurance Scheme (or GEHI), I speak to today to clear up the false and irresponsible accusations that have been made against the Government of Bermuda by the Shadow Minister of Health, for the One Bermuda Alliance - Senator Michael Dunkley.
Madam President, it was on Sunday, July 8th that the One Bermuda Alliance sent out a statement to the Media in the name of Senator Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of Health entitled, “Government failure to pay costs thousands of civil servants dental insurance coverage.”
This extraordinary accusation launched via the press continued to make more false claims. The very first line of the statement made the following declaration, “Dental insurance coverage for Government employees has been suspended because the Government has failed to pay the premium for their coverage.”
Madam President, please allow me to dissect that sentence. The first part of that sentence states that “Dental insurance coverage for Government for employees has been suspended.” Madam President, this would under normal circumstances be a serious matter, worthy of public debate, if it were true. However, Madam President, the Premier & Minister of Finance, GEHI, and BF&M the service provider have all refuted this claim. In fact, BF&M released a statement yesterday stating that “all Government employees have been, and will continue to be, fully covered for dental treatment provided under the policy.”
Madam President, my statement today is not a time to ask questions of the Opposition, as I seek only to make the Government’s position clear on this issue, but one must wonder exactly who is feeding the OBA this information. I think it is fair for the people of this country to expect that when members of this chamber speak to the public, whether it is in this chamber or outside, they are speaking fact and not fiction.
At NO TIME was “Dental insurance coverage for Government for employees has been suspended,” as Senator Dunkley claimed. Never! Madam President, I can confirm that neither Senator Dunkley or anyone from the OBA checked with GEHI or the Ministry of Finance to verify these baseless accusations, and they apparently didn’t check with the service provider BF&M in any official capacity given that BF&M have flatly rejected their claim that coverage was suspended.
But Madam President, before I digress, I would like to move to the 2nd part of the first sentence of the statement in question, that states, “Government fell more than 90 days behind in premium payments to the insurer.”
Madam President, this is yet another false allegation which was again refuted yesterday by BF&M in its release saying, “GEHI premiums are paid up to date”. Madam President, why the different stories, why the rush by Senator Dunkley and the OBA to make a political point without checking the facts?
Senator Dunkley was on Bermuda Broadcasting News last night saying, “We did our research”. However, Madam President, the facts don’t match with their “research”. Their reckless accusation is further invalidated by the statement from BF&M which appears in today’s Royal Gazette which states, “the company had not yet applied the most recent premium payment, which was made to BF&M within 30 days of being billed.”
So Madam President, on one side we have a reputable company in Bermuda issuing a statement saying that“GEHI premiums are paid up to date”, and that payments were “made to BF&M within 30 days of being billed.” And on the other side, you have Senator Dunkley stating that, “Government fell more than 90 days behind in premium payments to the insurer”. Madam President, it would seem that the OBA owe the Government, 10,000 GEHI Members, their families, retirees and the Bermudian people an explanation.
This claim has been refuted by the Government and has been refuted by the service provider, but Senator Dunkley continues to promote this falsehood. Yesterday’s Royal Gazette reported that Senator Dunkley and the OBA “stood by its claim Government has fallen into arrears with premium payments”
Madam President, the Bermudian public deserve to know on what basis did Senator Dunkley and the OBA make that accusation. As Senator Dunkley didn’t check with GEHI, one would assume that he got the information from BF&M. However if BF&M is rejecting his accusations, then one must assume that if he didn’t make up this claim about the Government being “90 days behind in premium payments”, he will let the Bermudian public know why he made these accusations which have now been disproven. Could it possibly be that the “BF&M Sources” that the Opposition Leader referenced in his statement to the media served as Senator Dunkley and the OBA’s source? Madam President, I would hate to think that rumours from “sources” rise to the level of a basis for a public accusation, especially when we are talking about people’s healthcare coverage. One would imagine that before making such a claim the Opposition would get official confirmation prior to peddling rumour as fact. However, Madam President, in the rush to make a political point, Senator Dunkley and the OBA went with rumour and got it wrong.
Madam President, that is not the end because in my view there is a more serious matter at play here, and that is the issue of using private records for political gain.
Madame President, as part of the upfront payment legislation, insurers are required to provide health service providers with information on insured persons, what they are insured for, and how much the insurance will cover for each treatment. From the list leaked to the Royal Gazette by Senator Dunkley and the One Bermuda Alliance, it looks like the information is taken from BF&M’s portal which will go into live use on August 1, 2012, and will be made available to each service provider. In this case, it appears that a dentist has printed portal information and given it to Senator Dunkley. Madame President, although this is a test system by BF&M, the original access to the information is legitimate as it emanates from a service provider; but what this raises is the serious issue of privacy protection. Health service information should and must remain private, and the use of that information for political purposes is unethical.
For the purposes of this scenario a number of questions must be posed:
1. When and by whom was the list of 80 persons made public by the One Bermuda Alliance redacted with black marker?
2. Was the redaction done by the person who provided it to Senator Dunkley such that he has never seen the names? If so, how can he be sure that they are Government employees and therefore the list supports his allegations which have been proved false?
3. If that is not the case, was the list redacted by Senator Dunkley? If so, unless he has become a healthcare provider overnight, what right did he have to know the private coverage details of 80 public citizens?
4. Was it given to the Royal Gazette redacted or not? If it was, is it only on Senator Dunkley’s word that they accept that it is a list of 80 people and that they are Government employees? If so that is appalling journalism. If not, then yet another person or persons are privy to private coverage information of 80 public officers.
5. Was it redacted by the Royal Gazette? If so, then no real effort was taken to properly do so and this too is appalling journalism. This is evidenced by the fact that the Royal Gazette removed the “OBA Evidence” originally posted on their website, as the private information of Bermudians was still visible.
Madame President, for whoever leaked and supplied this information and for whoever has sought to exploit it, this is not whistle blowing, this is no selfless public act. This is a perverse and devious attempt to score political points at the risk of betraying the privacy of Bermudians. To simply think that a $2 black marker can somehow make right this egregious breach of trust and confidentiality is appalling. This is the thin edge of the wedge, Madame President. Does every public officer now have to be concerned that their private health issues will be made the subject of public political debate simply to further the aims of the Opposition? On Monday it was their coverage; should Government employees worry what private health detail may be leaked tomorrow? The list provided to the Royal Gazette is something for the eyes of healthcare service providers only. To print it, supply it to a person not bound by such confidentiality agreements and then to publish it in any form are all equal acts of betrayal. No public interest has been served by doing so. We can debate the Government’s ability to make its payments on time. We can argue about the actual status of the coverage. Madame President, we can even discuss the GEHI plan generally; but to use the private healthcare details of hard working men and women to further one’s political objectives is quite simply off-limits.
One would have hoped that the Leader of the Opposition would have publicly rejected this type of politics, but yesterday he said “There is no need to apologise”. Madam President, this statement from the Opposition Leader indicates that he endorses this gross lack of judgment and that he and his Party share this crass insensitivity on display these last few days. Madame President, there are enough issues in the everyday lives of the 10,000 public service employees, families & retirees; they do not need the added stress of wondering who knows their private business and who will use it for political gain.
Madam President, this was a naked political manoeuvre, designed to embarrass this government. Such a reckless act should cause all Bermudian’s to question if there is nothing sacred. Madam President, it is inexcusable to play with people’s personal information for political gain. This behaviour is reprehensible for a party that claims they are ready for government; with such recklessness one must question if they are ready for opposition.
Madam President, Bermudians deserve better. They deserve an Opposition worthy of the greatness of Bermudians. They deserve an Opposition that can admit they made an error. They do not deserve an Opposition and an Opposition leader that says, “There is no need to apologise”. They deserve an opposition that is accountable for their actions.
Madam President, being accountable means that you don’t get to make false and baseless statements to over 10,000 Bermudians and then turn around and say “There is no need to apologise”. Being accountable means that you don’t get to release private information about Government employees to the media that serves NO public interest and say, “There is no need to apologise”. Being accountable means that you don’t manufacture a controversy and then go on TV to state, “We are delighted that BF&M and Government got together and worked this out”. Madam President, The Government and BF&M didn’t “get together” and “work[ed] this out” because there was nothing to work out. Contrary to Senator Dunkley’s claims, the Government was NOT in arrears and coverage was NOT suspended. Yet today still Senator Dunkley and the OBA refuse to accept that they were wrong in their accusation that the, “Government fell more than 90 days behind in premium payments to the insurer.” Not only are they wrong, Madam President, but it seems the Royal Gazette also, with its headline of “Dental insurance coverage status returns to active,” seems to be unable to print the fact that the OBA and its reckless political attack on this government was proven to be 100% false.
One would think that in a modern democracy such as Bermuda that an Opposition party which states, “We will hold ourselves to high ethical and moral standards,” would actually stand by its words and practice what they preach.
Madam President, Senator Dunkley’s release on Sunday ended with the following quote, “The Government must step forward immediately to explain why it is not honouring its responsibility to its employees to maintain their GEHI dental coverage.”
I would like to rephrase that statement and say, “Senator Dunkley must step forward immediately to explain why he and the party he represents manufactured a controversy based on private records from a health care provider and relied on rumour when making an accusation that has been proven to be 100% false.”
Bermuda is another world Madam President, but no matter what world you are living in, it is clear to see that this government and the Bermudian people deserve at the very least an apology from Senator Dunkley and the One Bermuda Alliance.
Thank you Madam President.