…says “going to private hospitals means you have money, so pay VAT” …taxing condoms is taxing safe sex – Dr Anthony
By Gary Eleazar
Government has roundly rejected the avalanche of criticism against the proposed 2017 Budget measure to impose the Value Added Tax (VAT) on health services and medicines, saying that persons that opt to use private facilities and outlets have money to pay.
Minister within the Communities Ministry, Valerie Sharpe-Patterson dropped that bombshell as she delivered her contribution to the debate over the 2017 expenditures.
She was at the time responding to People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament, Dr Frank Anthony, whose shadow remit in the National Assembly involved the Public Health Ministry.
Dr Anthony had minutes earlier in his presentation lamented the Government’s move to apply VAT to basic medicines and services, and bemoaned the acute shortages of drugs that would plague the public health systems, forcing persons to seek treatment privately.
Minister Sharpe-Patterson, in rebutting Dr Anthony, sought to point out that free medical services were provided by the Administration.
It was at this point in time the Minister told the House that if anybody wished to go to a private facility, it meant they had money and, as such, must pay VAT.
Dr Anthony had been unrelenting in his criticism of the Administration’s signalled intention to apply VAT to drugs, medical supplies and medical services.
The coalition A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government is literally taxing the sick, and Dr Anthony appealed to Government to repeal the careless taxation measures or withdraw the Budget in its entirety.
He told the House, “I am totally at a loss to describe this level of callousness that is being exhibited by this Government…Where is the compassion?”
Lamenting the state of affairs, Dr Anthony reminded the House that the World Health Organisation (WHO), in addition to the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), has been advocating the world over to ensure that medicines and health-related services and supply did not attract taxes.
He told the House that for many years the Guyana Government has been compliant with this regime, and the APNU/AFC Administration was looking to reverse what obtains.
In an appeal to the conscience of the members of the Government, Dr Anthony questioned where was the compassion for the sick, elderly, poor and disabled.
According to Dr Anthony, the measures to impose taxes on the sick demonstrate the nature of the APNU/AFC Government.
He drew the attention of the House that Budget 2017 has brought with it 57 new tax measures, including the imposition of VAT on health services and medical services, and questioned whether Government had, in fact, undertaken an assessment of the impact of its decision.
Dr Anthony called on Government to provide its assessment of the number of jobs that would be lost at pharmacies, maternal and elderly care facilities and other related institutions.
The MP was adamant that the APNU/AFC policy of taxing medicines and health services would have a negative effect on the public health gains made over the years.
According to the former Government Minister, the prevention of HIV/AIDS in Guyana will suffer since the anti-retrovirals will now be attracting VAT.
Dr Anthony even told the House that condoms would now attract VAT, which effectively meant that Government had placed a 14 per cent tax on safe sex.
“I urge this Government to urgently repeal these exploitive tax measures,” he said.
Bemoaning the state of affairs proposed by Finance Minister Winston Jordan, Dr Anthony noted that a visit to a medical practitioner would attract VAT.
He said Government has been speaking laudably about the need for neonatal care and reducing infant mortality, but the very medicines and services required to ensure that there was a favourable outcome would be attracting 14 per cent VAT.
“If you go to a nursing home to recuperate its 14 per cent VAT,” Dr Anthony bellowed as he cited many of the other numerous services that would now attract the tax.
He was adamant that very often the public health facilities had inoperable equipment or with drug shortages, leaving persons with no choice but to resort to private pharmacies and services.
“If you are hospitalised, the meals that you eat will now attract 14 per cent VAT,” Dr Anthony said.
He too also used the occasion to remind that VAT was now being imposed on accessories required for differently abled persons, such as hearing aids and wheelchairs.
The former Minister lamented too that Government was even seeking to tax the partially blind since VAT was now applicable to spectacles.
“If you get diarrhoea”, according to Dr Anthony, the treatment for this too will attract VAT even as he sought to emphasise that this also obtained for the treatment of high blood pressure and headaches.
In withholding his support for the 2017 Budget, Dr Anthony described the proposal as visionless, ruthless and careless. (Guyana Times)