HMC at Odds with Health Council Over SHB Status

Dr. J.J. Soares, who runs HMC Urgent Care and Medical Imaging on Burnaby Street in Hamilton, revealed during a press conference at his office this afternoon that he and his team have been battling back and forth with the Bermuda Health Council since March of 2019 regarding permission to provide imaging services to HIP and FutureCare patients, what many other providers on the island have been doing for years.

“ I’m afraid to say that despite our best efforts, the health council and by extension the Bermuda Government, still refuse to give us any type of Standard Health Benefit (SHB) approval,” he said. “ The granting of this approval to other healthcare providers, such as Bermuda HealthCare Services, Island Urology and Ultimate Imaging just to name a few, has been the norm rather than a special privilege to be fought over in the courts.”

Due to the health council’s continuous refusal to grant HMC SHB approval, Dr. Soares took the matter to the Supreme Court, where they finally received SHB status. Despite this, the Council recently took the case to the Court of Appeals to try and overthrow that decision.
“ Despite the council’s effort to thwart our progress, the Court of Appeals ruled to continue our SHB status and instead ordered the health council to decide our full-year application, which they have been sitting on for almost a year and a half now,” Dr. Soares said.

He called the reasons that the health council gave in court for not granting the center SHB status “ethereal” and “ chopped and changed” throughout the years.

“ Initially, the health council said that I was going to overprescribe and drive up the healthcare costs,” he explained. “ [In reality], that criticism would be the same for any other healthcare provider on the island.”

Back in 2019, Dr. Soares thought that the biggest issue that the council had was when he submitted a midyear application as opposed to a full-year application.

“ In a midyear application, you are supposed to show budget neutrality, and the council claimed that we did not do that,” he said. “ We expected that midyear application to be regarded back in 2019 and anticipated an answer within a couple of months . . . and we did not receive an official denial from them until January 2020. We submitted a full-year application in June of last year and they are now telling us that that application is unlikely to be successful, because we have not shown them a need for other scanners on the island.”

According to Dr. Soares, the health council is helping to perpetuate a monopoly for SHB providers. They have even acknowledged and admitted this fact while in Court and also acknowledged that they have “ no interest in disrupting the status quo.”

“ It is somewhat odd that they defended this system of monopolies saying that having a monopoly motivates the owner of that monopoly to reinvest in their business,” he said. “ This is an absolute fantasy. What motivates businesses to reinvest and improve upon their services is competition.”

“ The issue of my world-class facility not being available to HIP or FutureCare patients while older incumbent facilities get reapproved without inspections or proper criteria being fulfilled does not bode well for the future Bermuda health plan which this government envisions and wishes to propose as a single Government insurer,” he continued.

“ Given the health council’s complete reliance on public funds, their practices fly in the face of Government’s own financial instructions, which consist on the principles of value of money, competition and equity in awarding contracts.”

Two of Dr. Soares’ patients were also present at the press conference and expressed their support for HMC and their belief that they should be granted full SHB status. Another patient who could not make it to the press conference expressed their view in writing.

“ As a mobility scooter user working in town, the easy access to HMC, coupled with the choice of an open MRI, has made the ability to easily access healthcare services, the use of scanning services in particular, more affordable and convenient,” their statement read.

“ The ability to walk in and have equipment suited to specific medical challenges is, in my opinion, greatly beneficial to patients needing efficient treatment and testing which may otherwise be delayed if using other limited options.”

Samuel Johansen, one of Dr. Soares’ oldest patients, does not understand why HMC has not yet been granted SHB.
“ This facility is the most up to date in Bermuda, certainly more up to date than the hospital,” Mr. Johansen said. “ I trust and hope that the council will give its okay to Dr. Soares’ medical center which will take care of all Bermudians and all people and not have to wait another two to six weeks before they can be taken care of. By that time, people could be gone.”

Allan Martin, another one of Dr. Soares’ patients, remembers Dr. Soares playing doctor in the neighborhood when he was ten years old.

“ This facility is first-class, no one should want to take it apart,” Mr. Martin said. “ There are forces who have done everything humanly possible to delay, stop and discourage HMC . . . I support this Center with all of my heart and with all of my strength, I will fight for it, because it is free.”

Dr. Soares and the HMC team look forward to their latest application being fairly and objectively reviewed by the health council and to delivering the health care that all Bermudians deserve.
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