National Health Insurance: 'All is well'

Despite rumblings that Cabinet has rejected the NHI Bill, the health department is adamant that "all is well". Picture: iStock
Despite rumblings that Cabinet has rejected the NHI Bill, the health department is adamant that "all is well". Picture: iStock

As rumblings continue to whirl around whether the contentious National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill was rejected by Cabinet last week, the health department has moved to allay the negative speculation, stating: “All is well.”

The department’s spokesperson, Popo Maja, told City Press that “all was on course” for a special Cabinet meeting in January for the bill to be discussed.

Media reports last week alluded to it being rejected by Cabinet when it was presented on Wednesday, yet a statement released on behalf of Cabinet on Thursday made no mention of it. “We are not at liberty to discuss any of the decisions or resolutions taken by Cabinet but I can say that all is well and next month Cabinet will decide on it,” Maja said.

Acting Cabinet spokesperson Phumla Williams refused to be drawn on whether the bill was rejected or what would happen.

“I report only on what was agreed on during the sitting and was released in the statement. I cannot discuss any other thing than what was on the statement.”

The NHI is a health financing system designed to pool funds to provide access to quality, affordable personal health services for all South Africans.

However, it proposes structural reforms so radical to the system in place that it is unclear what the role of medical aids or the private sector would be once implemented – and that has been arguably the biggest bone of contention.

However, for DA shadow minister for health Patricia Kopane this latest stumble on the path to NHI only affirmed the party’s stance that the process was being rushed and the focus should rather be on fixing the country’s ailing health system.

“We’ve been saying fix the current health system first before the NHI because it is not a solution to the country’s health problem. The thing about the bill is that you can’t work with something that does not have a price attached to it. We don’t know how much this will cost the country,” she said.

“If [Health Minister Aaron] Motsoaledi was serious, he would have first heeded the call of [professor Malegapuru Makgoba], the health ombudsman, when he said the health system was in a mess and needed to be fixed before it collapsed.

“Even the pilot project sites are failing. In KwaZulu-Natal I visited sites that had badly built structures and in Limpopo some sites had issues with the payment of doctors and nurses.”

Kopane’s sentiments echoed those made by the Progressive Health Forum – a loose organisation of civil organisations, doctors and activists – on the sidelines of the Presidential Health Summit in October that what was urgently needed before the implementation of the NHI, was focusing on fixing what was wrong in the
health system.

Last week the ministry hit back against reports that the NHI bill process was being irregularly handled and that the health system needed fixing first, saying: “Fixing the quality of the public healthcare system and dealing with the exorbitant cost of private healthcare has always been our goal and is a strong recommendation by the National Development Plan of the country.

“Government fully endorsed this recommendation without any reservation. But this fixing of the system has never been mutually exclusive with the implementation of NHI. In fact they go hand in glove and reinforce each other. We shall never agree to be put in a no-man’s-land of the chicken and egg situation.”

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