MPs tackle expensive medical aid

2018-01-07 06:03

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Unhappy MPs are setting aside their political differences to challenge their compulsory membership of the Parliamentary and Provincial Medical Aid Scheme (Parmed), because of its exorbitant tariffs.

One of the last things the National Assembly did before it rose for the Christmas break was to adopt a motion to establish an ad hoc committee to investigate the statutory requirement that makes membership of the scheme compulsory for MPs, and its tariffs.

The committee will investigate a possible amendment of the Parliamentary and Provincial Medical Aid Scheme Act, which makes membership of Parmed compulsory for members of the National Assembly, of the executive and for judges of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and high court.

The committee will assess whether it is possible to have other medical aids for MPs, after a competitive bidding process.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) went to court in 2015 to challenge the act’s provision that forces all MPs to be on the state’s medical aid scheme.

The party argued that the imposition of Parmed infringes on MPs’ fundamental rights: their right to freedom of association and the right not to be arbitrarily deprived of property.

The EFF argued that the act may be constitutionally invalid.

The respondents in the EFF’s case were National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Thandi Modise and the speakers of eight of the country’s nine provincial legislatures and Parmed. Members of the Western Cape legislature are free to use a medical scheme of their choice.

When the matter came to court, Parliament did not deal with the issues raised in the EFF’s application.

Instead, it said it wanted the president, the finance minister and the chief justice to be included as respondents.

In his application to the Western Cape High Court, EFF leader Julius Malema said: “Our members, including me, were alarmed by the amounts ... being deducted.”

In an interview, ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu agreed with Malema.

Mthembu said the ANC caucus had had serious discussions on the matter for some time and had hoped that their concerns would be addressed by their members who sit on Parmed’s board.

Mthembu said many MPs, including himself, shared the EFF’s gripe.

“There was a time when I was supposed to pay around R20 000 a month and I paid it. I have grown up kids at university, plus my wife. I said I can’t continue like that. I remember a hell of a discussion at caucus as well.”

Mthembu, like many MPs, removed his family from the scheme, but stayed a member because he is forced to by law.

“I’m paying R4 800 for myself alone,” he told City Press.

Following discussions in parliamentary structures and party caucuses, all parties agreed that the sooner Parliament dealt with the matter the better, he said.

Mthembu described the act as an old order law which may, on the face of it, be unconstitutional.

He said they did not support the EFF’s court case because they thought their members on the Parmed board would resolve it.

EFF secretary-general Godrich Gardee said they had always been committed to a parliamentary process to deal with the harsh realities of a compulsory expensive medical aid scheme for parliamentarians and judges.

He welcomed “the late realisation by the ruling party that its own members are victims of this unaffordable health insurance scheme”.

“It is unfortunate that such appreciation of the problem had to be preceded by a vigorous and bruising court battle by the EFF all alone, at huge costs.”

Gardee said the party would approach the court to withdraw the earlier application to have the Parmed Act declared unconstitutional, to allow Parliament’s processes time to unfold.

Read more on:    eff  |  baleka mbete  |  national assembly  |  health

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