Wednesday, 14 December 2022 14:22

Gov't increases NHF benefits; prostate cancer test now covered

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

HE Government has announced changes to the National Health Fund's (NHF) Individual Benefits Programme which will see higher subsidies, an increase to the Jamaica Drug for the Elderly Programme (JADEP) drug list, and the addition of the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test.

These additional benefits are expected to take effect by the end of February next year.

Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, who made the disclosure during a statement in Parliament on Tuesday, said these changes will help to support access to health care for the 350,000 active beneficiaries who use the NHF card, and the more than 21,000 beneficiaries of JADEP.

"At the same time, Jamaican men 40 and older and who are enrolled with the NHF will now have ready access to screening for what is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in our male population," he said.

Tufton told the House that the NHF Individual Benefits Programme provides subsidies for three main categories of benefits for Jamaican residents enrolled. These subsidies are accessed using the NHF card and through JADEP for medication for the treatment of 17 chronic diseases, medical supplies and devices for diabetes and asthma and for two diagnostics tests.

"In keeping with the NHF's strategic priority to improve access and enhance customer satisfaction, the fund conducts periodic reviews of the benefits under the programme and in addition receives feedback from beneficiaries and stakeholders in relation to their concerns about the programme," he said, noting that directors approved the changes at a board of management meeting held on November 23, 2022.

In terms of the NHF card, Tufton said there will now be an additional 41 new active pharmaceutical ingredients for the treatment of eight conditions — hypertension, heart disease, vascular disease, diabetes, psychosis, glaucoma, sickle cell disease, and epilepsy.

"This will cost an additional $474 million per annum in order to make provisions for these additional drugs," Tufton said.

The NHF Board, he said, also approved changes to JADEP to ensure that five pharmaceutical items are added for the treatment of five conditions — arthritis, asthma, glaucoma, hypertension and vascular disease, based on specific criteria.

"This will see approximately 21,100 active beneficiaries receiving benefits at an estimated cost of $42.59 million per annum. Jamaican residents 60 years and older can qualify for benefits under JADEP," he said.

Turning to the PSA test, Tufton said that this will now be covered under the Individual Benefits Programme, where males over 40 years who are enrolled on the NHF can now access the test.

"We have some 89,665 active male claimants, 40 years and older, who can benefit from this new addition," he said.

The subsidy on the PSA tests is set at $1,600 per test with a maximum allowance of one test per year.

"We would like to say to our Jamaican men, those over 40 who can now access this benefit, that it is better to feel violated and get tested than to determine that you are infected by prostate cancer at a stage where there is no recovery. Get yourself tested, it may save your life," he said.

Tufton, in his statement to Parliament, said that prostate cancer is a very serious men's health issue being the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Jamaican men and the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the male population. He noted that more often than not, the reasons why men die from prostate cancer is due to late detection because they do not get screened.

Citing Global Cancer Observatory data for 2020, Tufton said it is estimated that Jamaica sees on average around 1,500 new prostate cancer cases annually.

"Part of the way forward is to encourage early detection through screening; hence, this new addition to the NHF arrangement. So screening is really about early detection. Early detection saves lives. Screening for prostate cancer using the PSA test and the digital rectal examination (DRE) can identify abnormalities and may find cancer early so that affected men can begin treatment before it spreads," he said.

To access these expanded benefits and others, members of the public can call the NHF, visit its website or visit any of the 106 DrugServ locations for full time and scheduled services at private and public health facilities islandwide.