NIS pensioners will now have to pay 20 per cent of drug costs – source

-says scrapping of distribution system underlines scheme’s chronic problems

Pensioners will likely have to pay 20% of the bill for drugs under a new system the NIS is introducing from January 1, 2010.

The announcement by the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) that it will be terminating its drug distribution scheme from January next year raises questions about the capacity of the Scheme to discharge some of its more critical responsibilities, according to a source close to the institution.

The NIS announced in a public notice which appeared in the media last weekend that with effect from January 1 next year it will be scrapping its free drug distribution programme for pensioners who will be required to purchase their medication then seek reimbursement for expenses incurred.

But the source told Stabroek Business that the move to terminate the drug distribution programme which hundreds of pensioners, some with terminal diseases rely upon to treat their ailments, is a backward step that demonstrates some of the critical weaknesses within the Scheme.

According to the source the decision is, in the first instance, “a financial one since the Scheme has found it too costly to maintain the programme which has been in place for more than three years. However, according to the source, it was probably more than a mere coincidence that the announcement comes on the heels of the resignations by both the doctor and dispenser attached to the Scheme with effect from January 1, 2010. The source blamed the resignations on “intervention in the work of the doctor and dispenser” by the management of the NIS, pointing out that while the doctor, who serves as Medical Adviser to the Scheme is likely to be replaced quickly, replacing the dispenser may take a while longer. “Of course, without these two functionaries in place it would be difficult to run a proper drug distribution programme,”

The source also raised concerns about “the new tier” that will now  be added to the Scheme’s bureaucracy. NIS reimbursements can be notoriously slow and procedure-driven, a circumstance that raises the spectre of protracted delays in processing refunds. “The other issue, if course, is that of liquidity. People will have to find the money up front,” the source said.

Meanwhile, Stabroek Business has learnt that under the new arrangement eligible pensioners will receive refunds equivalent to 80 per cent of their drug purchases. “This of course will have implications for additional expenditure for pensioners who depend on the NIS’ drug distribution scheme. In the cases of high-cost drugs associated with the treatment of cancer and certain other diseases that additional expenditure could be considerable,” the source said.

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