Iguanas, healthcare costs take toll on Cayman Islands budget

By Cayman Compass

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(CAYMAN COMPASS) — Government has voted new funding of $1.9 million for a massive, islandwide iguana cull and $6.5 million to help cover the healthcare costs of uninsured patients.

The additional spending was approved at a meeting of the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee last week.

The money for the iguana cull, pulled from the Environmental Protection Fund, will enable hunters to begin targeting the invasive species this year. Department of Environment director Gina Ebanks-Petrie told the committee cullers would be paid $5-a-head in an islandwide eradication effort that will target 6,000 iguanas every day.

The additional funds, combined with $400,000 already in the kitty and $1.1 million approved for next year, give the DoE a fighting fund of $3.4 million to begin the cull.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said government would be monitoring the success of the project before seeking to vote on further funds. It is expected the cull could eventually cost around $8 million a year.

“We have to make sure we are not just spending six, seven, eight million without achieving the overall objective. We have to assess along the way as quickly as possible whether we are capable of achieving the goal.”

The other major spending allocation for 2018 was to cover a shortfall for the payment of “tertiary care at local and overseas institutions.”

Government initially budgeted $11 million for this, but authorized an additional $8 million in spending in July and a further $6.5 million last week.

Health Minister Dwayne Seymour acknowledged the payments were putting a growing strain on government resources. He said it was very difficult to predict how much would be required each year for the allocation, which covers medical emergencies for people classified as “indigent.”

He said there had been a number of cases involving premature babies where the mothers had to be flown off island that had pushed the expenditure up in the past six months.

Chris Saunders, independent legislator for Bodden Town, said the expense had risen by more than 50 percent in the last three years. He said it was unsustainable for government to continue to bear the full cost of tertiary treatment for the uninsured.

“The solution has got to be looking at national health insurance,” he added.

In an interview with the Cayman Compass, Friday, Finance Minister Roy McTaggart acknowledged that the funding of emergency care for Cayman’s poorest citizens placed a heavy and unpredictable burden on government finances. He said there had been some cases this year that had cost more than $1 million each.

“What we have now is unsustainable. We are trying to look at every way we can to limit the growth in costs that we are experiencing.”

Part of that includes looking at the scope of services Health City could provide, Mr. McTaggart added.

Government also passed a bill Thursday for additional spending in the 2016/17 budget year.

The expenditures had already been approved by the Legislative Assembly but had to be officially sanctioned through the Supplementary Appropriations (July 2016 to December 2017) Bill.

The bill highlights nearly $50 million in additional spending during that budget period.

Mr. McTaggart said the spending represented emergency appropriations that were not foreseen when the original budget was formulated.

These included $3.6 million to help deal with an unexpected number of Cuban migrants and $4.8 million to buy land adjacent to Smith Cove to preserve it for public use and prevent a development on the site.

There was also an $8.5 million equity investment in Cayman Airways, which allowed the airline to repay its debts to the Cayman Islands Airports Authority. That money was crucial in helping the CIAA pay for the construction of the upgraded airport, Mr. McTaggart said.

Supplementary appropriations are a normal part of the budgeting process, Mr. McTaggart said. He said such spending was only possible because of government’s policy of running large operating budget surpluses.

“We wouldn’t be able to make these investments and approve this kind of additional spending if we didn’t have the funding available.”

Government reported an operating budget surplus of $201 million after the first six months of 2018. Mr. McTaggart expects that to be closer to the $137 million originally forecast by the end of the year.

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