South Africa’s Minister for Health Zweli Mkhize on Thursday defended the National Health Insurance (NHI) bill which was met with growing criticism, saying the nation was following an international direction in implementing universal health care.
Universal healthcare insurance is an international movement and it is not just South Africa moving on its own, he told Parliament’s Portforlio Committee on Health.
“All countries that instituted national health insurance are in a better economic state now than when they started,” the minister said.
The NHI bill is procedurally right and bench-marked globally, Mkhize said.
The minister, however, acknowledged that the bill makes South Africans scared because of some issues in the public domain.
Earlier this month, Mkhize submitted to Parliament the bill which envisions a package of comprehensive health services for free at public and private health facilities as part of the government’s bid to offer more fair access to quality healthcare.
The landmark bill will benefit all South African citizens, permanent residents, refugees, inmates, expats and all children.
However, critics say the financing method of this bill will mean the implementation of a new tax on ordinary South Africans who have already been exploited by the government and cannot be subjected to yet another tax.
Many political parties and several bodies, including the South African Private Practitioners’ Forum, voiced doubts about the bill, calling it impractical, very expensive, and would possibly harm the healthcare sector, particularly when the nation is facing a financial crisis.
The goal of the bill is to establish and maintain a NHI Fund funded through obligatory prepayment that aims to attain sustainable and affordable universal access to quality healthcare services.
The fund will operate on the basis of one buyer and one payer of healthcare services, by pooling finances and strategic purchasing of healthcare services and goods from accredited and contracted healthcare service providers, the minister said.
Once the bill is fully implemented, minister Mkhize will introduce regulations limiting medical plan benefits to services that are not repayable by the fund, the Department of Health said.
Ayesha Johaar from the Office of the State Law Advisor said on Thursday’s briefing that the bill is constitutionally fit.
“We are therefore satisfied that Parliament, in passing the proposed legislation, would not be acting capriciously and arbitrarily, in violation of the rule of law, thereby rendering such legislation inconsistent with the Constitution,” said Johaar.