The National Insurance Scheme which was established by the PNC Government during its term of office was an act of foresight. It has provided a vital safety net for thousands of Guyanese faced with illness or disability arising from accidents during the course of employment. The contributions are burdensome for the lower paid and the benefits are wholly inadequate. But were it not for the NIS, nothing would have been forthcoming. It is to the credit of successive PNC and PPP/C Governments to have ensured the survival of the NIS which has the critical support of all Guyanese.
Under the National Insurance and Social Security Act, persons who are between the ages of sixteen and sixty and who are gainfully occupied in insurable employment are required to be insured and to remain so insured for life. Persons who are insured are entitled to a range of assistance including invalidity benefit, survivor’s benefit, sickness benefit, maternity benefit, funeral benefit, child care benefit and constant attendance benefit.
Upon the attainment of age 60, even though still insured according to the Act, the benefits available before retirement at the age of 60, which are set out above, are no longer available. The NIS no longer wants to hear from you. The only benefit payable is a modest and inadequate old age pension.
The retirement age in Guyana is 55. For those who have laboured in the sugar estates or the bauxite mines, their broken bodies do not allow them to work much after 55 anyway. Salaries which are payable for these and other non-professional employment are inadequate to enable such employees to buy annuities or make any savings substantial enough to significantly supplement the pension payable from the NIS.
Upon retirement therefore, at age 55 or a little older, many Guyanese face the daunting prospect of having to survive on an inadequate income even though expenses are likely to be greater.
An insured person is entitled to medical expenses if s/he gets ill. Consultation, hospitalization, surgical operations, cost of drugs are all paid for by the NIS to a doctor or a hospital of the insured’s choice. There is a recognition by the NIS in this policy that the services offered by the Georgetown Hospital, though considerably improved, might not be adequate to serve the needs of all insured persons.
As soon as an insured person attains the age of 60 these benefits cease. If consultation with a doctor, hospitalization, surgery or drugs are required, no help is forthcoming from the NIS even though this is the time when such benefits are most needed. And it is at this time that the pensioner can hardly afford it. By this time s/he is likely to have retired. As a person gets older s/he is more likely to require medical services than those who are younger.
Age brings a variety of potential illnesses and many succumb to these even if they may have made efforts to ensure that they had a healthy lifestyle. These ailments include hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and others. These generally arise in the vicinity of 50 to 60 years and they require lifelong, expensive medication. After 60 the NIS does not want to know. It will pay no medical expenses and now it will not pay for any drugs. An insured person therefore spend his/her working life paying for insurance, hardly utilizing the benefits during his/her younger years when health is usually more robust, then when the assistance is needed after 60, it is not available.
The NIS makes a concession to pensioners by allowing them the cost of drugs. This is a major source of assistance for pensioners who can at least look forward to this modest relief. However, pensioners are at a great disadvantage. After a lifetime of support for and contribution to the NIS, they lose the benefits, particularly medical benefits, when they need it most. They issue is not whether or not they will need the assistance. As pensioners get older they develop ailments which require medical assistance. They face the prospect of having to step down from the fast and more effective services offered by private doctors and hospitals to the slower and more ponderous, though increasingly effective, attention given by the Georgetown Hospital or Regional Hospitals.
Actuarial and other studies have been done in relation to the NIS but these are not available. It is not known whether any have addressed the dire situation of pensioners. If not this is a situation then authorities need to address it with some urgency because pensioners may well be in a situation where they need the help. It is highly unfair for contributors to the NIS to be paying insurance for the whole of their working lives, hardly making use of its facilities when they are young and healthy, then when they really need assistance, it is not available. Something is wrong with such a system. Pensioners, though their situation is far better now than it ever was due to a beneficent administration, are suffering a raw deal and it should be addressed. (www.conversationtree.gy)