Editorial: A step in a healthy direction

2018-06-24 10:09

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Quality, affordable, universal healthcare is enshrined in our Constitution as a right. It is a right that every citizen in South Africa should have access to, but doesn’t.

The rich and those who can afford medical aid enjoy private healthcare, while the majority of the population is forced to use an ever-deteriorating public healthcare system.

This week, however, may have seen the first steps to ending this atrocious imbalance. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi presented two bills to the public – the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill and the Medical Schemes Amendment Bill – which aim to address this.

While many questions remain unanswered, at the core of the proposed NHI Bill is the principle that the rich will subsidise the poor, the young will subsidise the old, the healthy will subsidise the sick and the urban will subsidise the rural. This is a fair position in a country divided by vast inequality.

The Medical Schemes Amendment Bill is perhaps more radical in that it proposes to legislate private healthcare business. It states that co-payments will end – medical aids will carry the full cost of treatment; brokers will be phased out; savings will be passed back to members; and there will be no penalties for late joining or for the elderly.

Consumers will see this as a welcome relief in an environment of ever-rising premiums. Whether this will make medical aid more accessible is not certain, but what is certain is that cross-subsidisation will go some way to alleviating the current problems.

The bills are now open for public comment. No doubt medical schemes will be up in arms, as will private healthcare providers. Be sure that court challenges will come.

Be that as it may, this sector must truly be effectively regulated to ensure universal access. While it is easy to say this, it does not downplay the biggest elephant in the room – the dire state of the public healthcare system.

This must be addressed with urgency, for if it isn’t, then the phased-in approach of the NHI and the medical schemes amendments will do little more than create giant holes that swallow citizens’ contributions while offering very little in return.

Nevertheless, the bills should be applauded for taking a positive step in a fraught sector.

Read more on:    health

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