Gov’t should involve the public

Government has put the cart before the horse with the new health insurance programme for the public service.

Though many public servants have agreed that a new policy was needed, the programme’s details should have been announced much earlier so as to give employees ample time to prepare.

Instead, public servants were notified of the changes in a March 17 circular — just two weeks before the new policy took effect on April 1. Then, on March 29, the government started a series of meetings on the topic.

This short notice must have been hard on many employees, as the new programme raised rates significantly. Family coverage, for example, has risen about $150 per month. This means that grade one public servants, who earn about $1,300 monthly, could end up spending as much as 38 percent of their pay for health insurance for themselves and their families.

Instead of releasing details at the eleventh hour, the government should have involved public servants long ago, holding meetings to get their input before choosing a new provider and starting negotiations. Then, employees would have had a chance to air their opinions, and they likely would have felt that they had a stake in planning the initiative.

Now, with many employees complaining that they have unanswered questions about their new coverage, government’s unilateral action could easily backfire. What will happen, for example, if a substantial number of public servants decide to opt out of the new programme?

Unfortunately, Virgin Islands leaders all too often act without proper consideration for those who are directly affected by their decisions.

This style of governing is unbecoming in any democracy — especially in a time of economic hardship.

In the future, then, leaders should make every effort to involve the people in their decision-making processes at all levels.

The national health insurance programme that currently is in the works gives the government a golden opportunity to get it right. The consultant hired to design the system held meetings last year to gather public input, which was a major step in the right direction. As the plan comes closer to reality, government should continue to involve the public, as elected leaders have promised.

Then the national health insurance scheme — a much larger undertaking than the public service’s new programme — will have a far greater chance of success.