Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Sunday | December 23, 2012
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Fostering foolishness? Government employees barred from adding foster-children to state-funded health scheme
Tyrone Reid, Senior Staff Reporter

Persons employed by the Government who take children into their homes under a foster-care arrangement are barred from adding these children to the Government's health insurance scheme.

The Sunday Gleaner has confirmed that at least one ward of the state who was added to the Government's health plan as a dependent of a civil servant was recently removed.

The child was removed after the civil servant attempted to add another foster child to the state-sponsored health plan.

Since then, appeals have been mounted for the children to be added, but to no avail.

This was done based on the rules set by the Government Employees Administrative Services Only (GEASO) Health Care Programme monitoring committee and signed off on by the Cabinet.

Civil servants have to either brave the long wait at public health-care facilities or pay out of pocket for the foster-children in their care.

A document outlining the procedure for enrolment of GEASO subscribers states that "with an individual plan, the subscriber/employee is the only person covered". However, the family enrolment plan covers the subscriber and his or her resident spouse, married or unmarried and dependent children, even if they are adopted.

Family enrolment plan

In addition, the family enrolment plan covers the subscriber's dependent children under age 19 years, the subscriber's dependent children under age 19 years of the spouse in residence, and the subscriber's legally adopted children and/or spouse in residence and under age 17 years".

The document makes it clear that foster-parent arrangements would not allow a child to be added to the health insurance scheme.

"Foster care or court-approved legal guardianship will not be accepted for enrolment," read a section of the document marked 'note carefully'.

These ground rules were apparently approved by the GEASO monitoring committee in early December 2011.

While excluding foster-children from coverage, the plan makes room for dependent children who are not the biological offspring of the subscriber once the Legal Adoption Certificate from the Registrar General Department or the court approved document is presented.

The policy barring foster-children has irked child-rights advocate, Betty-Ann Blaine who described it as "foolhardy".

"That's stupid," said Blaine, convenor of Hear the Children's Cry.

"Any government would want to improve the whole situation of foster-parenting to benefit the children and the parents," she added.

Blaine described the monthly government subvention to families that volunteer to be foster-parents as pittance, and said she was left flabbergasted by the current policy position.

"For the life of me, why wouldn't you want to pursue that? I don't know how else to say it. It's common sense. It would work," said Blaine, as she urged the Government to implement a special dispensation under its GEASO health scheme that would allow foster-children to be able to access the health insurance benefit enjoyed by their foster-parents.

Shari Tomlinson, president of the Kingston and St Andrew Foster Parents' Association, told our news team that she too was stupefied by the policy position that she describes as a disincentive.

"I myself don't understand it. I'm not sure of the rationale behind. It needs urgent attention, because we are speaking of health and we know how that can change in an instance," she said.

Tomlinson, who works in the private sector, has fostered six children over the years and has had no difficulty adding them to her company-provided health plan, as long as she presents documentation from the Child Development Agency (CDA) confirming the legitimacy of the foster arrangement.

"Of course, it is counterproductive for the Government to have such a policy, and it is among a number of things we want to put on the table in the near future," said Tomlinson.

The CDA confirmed that it was aware that foster-parents working in both the private and public sectors were being denied the opportunity of adding the children they have taken into their homes to their health insurance scheme.

"The CDA is aware and has, in the past, approached insurance providers to support this initiative (for foster-parents to add children to their health insurance schemes)," said Audrey Budhi, director of children and family programmes at the CDA.

"We believe this matter requires a more long-term solution and will also be looking at how this can be addressed during the planned review of the Child Care and Protection Act and its attendant regulations. No doubt, we will need buy-in from the insurance providers which are privately operated," added Budhi.

No qualms from Sagicor

Checks with one of the country's leading health insurance providers, Sagicor Life Jamaica, which administers the 65,000-strong GEASO health scheme on behalf of the Government, revealed that it has no qualms with adding foster-children to its privately operated health schemes.

However, the company noted that it cannot add foster-children to the GEASO health scheme, because of the rules of engagement.

"GEASO is a government-administered plan. All the rules and regulations come from them. They set the boundaries within which we work," the Sagicor representative said.

Meanwhile, Budhi pointed out that foster-children "have access to free health care at government medical facilities as well as free access to services under the National Health Fund".

She noted that special grants such as payment for school fees; exam fees, and specialist medical services are also provided to foster-parents by the CDA.

The state provides $4,000 per month per child in foster care and Budhi agreed that this is not enough.

"The CDA recognises that the monthly stipend is not adequate and, for this reason, we have been working with the relevant authorities for this amount to be increased," said Budhi.

The state agency defined foster care as a process that enables persons who are not the biological parents of a child in residential care to raise and provide a nurturing environment for his or her physical, spiritual and emotional growth and development.

Foster care is not as permanent as a legal adoption, but many foster-care arrangements end up lasting years.

tyrone.reid@gleanerjm.com

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