The ongoing row over dental insurance coverage for Government employees continued in the Senate today [July 11] with Senators from both sides exchanging words over the situation.
Junior Minister of Finance Senator David Burt delivered a Ministerial statement on the matter saying he is speaking to “clear up the false and irresponsible accusations” that were made against the Government by the Shadow Minister of Health Senator Michael Dunkley.
Senator Burt said: “It was on Sunday, July 8th that the One Bermuda Alliance sent out a statement to the Media in the name of Senator Michael Dunkley, the Shadow Minister of Health entitled, “Government failure to pay costs thousands of civil servants dental insurance coverage.” ”
“This extraordinary accusation launched via the press continued to make more false claims. The very first line of the statement made the following declaration, “Dental insurance coverage for Government employees has been suspended because the Government has failed to pay the premium for their coverage.”
“Please allow me to dissect that sentence. The first part of that sentence states that “Dental insurance coverage for Government for employees has been suspended.” Madam President, this would under normal circumstances be a serious matter, worthy of public debate, if it were true.
“The Premier & Minister of Finance, GEHI, and BF&M the service provider have all refuted this claim. In fact, BF&M released a statement yesterday stating that “all Government employees have been, and will continue to be, fully covered for dental treatment provided under the policy.”
“At no time was “Dental insurance coverage for Government for employees has been suspended,” as Senator Dunkley claimed. Never! Madam President, I can confirm that neither Senator Dunkley or anyone from the OBA checked with GEHI or the Ministry of Finance to verify these baseless accusations, and they apparently didn’t check with the service provider BF&M in any official capacity given that BF&M have flatly rejected their claim that coverage was suspended.
“Before I digress, I would like to move to the 2nd part of the first sentence of the statement in question, that states, “Government fell more than 90 days behind in premium payments to the insurer.” “This is yet another false allegation which was again refuted yesterday by BF&M in its release saying, “GEHI premiums are paid up to date”. Madam President, why the different stories, why the rush by Senator Dunkley and the OBA to make a political point without checking the facts?
Senator Burt continued: “On one side we have a reputable company in Bermuda issuing a statement saying that“GEHI premiums are paid up to date”, and that payments were “made to BF&M within 30 days of being billed.” “And on the other side, you have Senator Dunkley stating that, “Government fell more than 90 days behind in premium payments to the insurer”. Madam President, it would seem that the OBA owe the Government, 10,000 GEHI Members, their families, retirees and the Bermudian people an explanation.
“One would imagine that before making such a claim the Opposition would get official confirmation prior to peddling rumour as fact. However, Madam President, in the rush to make a political point, Senator Dunkley and the OBA went with rumour and got it wrong. “That is not the end because in my view there is a more serious matter at play here, and that is the issue of using private records for political gain.
“For whoever leaked and supplied this information and for whoever has sought to exploit it, this is not whistle blowing, this is no selfless public act. This is a perverse and devious attempt to score political points at the risk of betraying the privacy of Bermudians.
“To simply think that a $2 black marker can somehow make right this egregious breach of trust and confidentiality is appalling. This is the thin edge of the wedge, Madame President. Does every public officer now have to be concerned that their private health issues will be made the subject of public political debate simply to further the aims of the Opposition? On Monday it was their coverage; should Government employees worry what private health detail may be leaked tomorrow? ”
One would have hoped that the Leader of the Opposition would have publicly rejected this type of politics, but yesterday he said “There is no need to apologise”. “This statement from the Opposition Leader indicates that he endorses this gross lack of judgment and that he and his Party share this crass insensitivity on display these last few days.
“There are enough issues in the everyday lives of the 10,000 public service employees, families & retirees; they do not need the added stress of wondering who knows their private business and who will use it for political gain.
“This was a naked political manoeuvre, designed to embarrass this government. Such a reckless act should cause all Bermudian’s to question if there is nothing sacred. Madam President, it is inexcusable to play with people’s personal information for political gain. This behaviour is reprehensible for a party that claims they are ready for government; with such recklessness one must question if they are ready for opposition.
“Bermudians deserve better. They deserve an Opposition worthy of the greatness of Bermudians. They deserve an Opposition that can admit they made an error. They do not deserve an Opposition and an Opposition leader that says, “There is no need to apologise”. They deserve an opposition that is accountable for their actions.
“Being accountable means that you don’t get to make false and baseless statements to over 10,000 Bermudians and then turn around and say “There is no need to apologise”. Being accountable means that you don’t get to release private information about Government employees to the media that serves no public interest and say, “There is no need to apologise”.
“Being accountable means that you don’t manufacture a controversy and then go on TV to state, “We are delighted that BF&M and Government got together and worked this out”. Madam President, The Government and BF&M didn’t “get together” and “work[ed] this out” because there was nothing to work out. Contrary to Senator Dunkley’s claims, the Government was NOT in arrears and coverage was not suspended,” said Senator Burt.
OBA Senator Toni Daniels spoke after Senator Burt’s speech saying they “will not apologize for ensuring that civil service is cared for,” and also said that: “I for one will not allow the integrity of our Leader and Deputy Leader be called into question.”
Senator Daniels said: “On Sunday night, we issued a statement alerting employees under GEHI that their dental insurer had changed the status of their coverage to ‘inactive’ from ‘active’.
“This meant they could no longer expect dentists to automatically accept their GEHI coverage. It meant their coverage was ‘inactive’ pending a discussion between the employee and the employer – presumably to get the employee to pressure the employer to pay the premium.
“The situation was clearly unfair to government employees and that is why we decided to act.So what happened? The Finance Ministry called our statement “baseless” and Premier said we were “reprehensible”. BF&M issued a statement saying that “GEHI premiums are paid and up to date.”
“But here’s something anyone looking at this situation should keep in mind: Within 24 hours of this story breaking on Monday morning, BF&M returned its customers’ status to “Active” from “Inactive”. A problem was solved; a problem that had the potential to victimize working men and women who had paid their dues.
“The OBA did its job. This was a situation in which civil servants’ insurance status was brought into question because of premium payment issues with the Government. We raised the matter in good conscience, to make sure working men and women did not pay the price for the action or inaction of others,” said Senator Daniels.
PLP Senator Jonathan Smith spoke immediately after Senator Daniels, saying “All I can say to that most ludicrous statement was nice try. The Senator used the word responsibility. I think it was Winston Churchill that said a lie gets halfway around the world before you have a chance to put your pants on. What we have heard is a lie, it was factually inaccurate, and they have been exposed.”
OBA Senator Michael Fahy spoke next saying, “We have been accused of lying. The way I interpreted Senator Smith’s statement was that Senator Daniels was lying, that is unacceptable. No one is lying here.
“Where I have great difficulty is that this Government has been using statements like ‘scurrilous’ insinuating or alleging that people are lying. And yet week after week after week we have sat in this Chamber and heard spin after spin about alleged government achievements,” continued Senator Fahy.
“At the same time that the PLP Chairperson is saying that the Leader of the Opposition claims he’s in charge, I wonder again what the heck that means. I know what it means, its electioneering at its worst.
“It ties in very nicely I might add, to the Honourable Premier’s comment that somehow those that are critics of this government are making criticisms because it is a black government, so those are the words of the Premier. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“That is why I have such difficulty when I hear a Junior Minister making statements and I hear another Senator in this Chamber accusing the OBA of lying I am shocked,” continued Senator Fahy.
Senator Dunkley spoke after Senator Fahy saying “I offer no apologies or no excuses for bringing this matter up. I take very seriously my position as Opposition Senator, and I will stand up and speak on behalf of people. ”
PLP Senator and Attorney General Kim Wilson referred to her legal background saying in order to operate within the law one has to present facts.
“In any court of law or court of public opinion you have to rely on facts supported by the evidence and that is normally generated by an investigation. And here we have a situation where apparently none of that existed,” said Senator Wilson.
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