Finance Minister Tito Mboweni told the National Council of Provinces on Wednesday afternoon that the National Health Insurance system was the only opportunity for the SA public healthcare system to shape up - government could do much to improve healthcare now, he said.
He was replying orally to questions from members of the NCOP.
While the African National Congress government has advocated the universal healthcare system for years, the Democratic Alliance and interest groups have opposed it, citing potential fiscal risks.
NCOP Member for the Democratic Alliance Dennis Ryder asked Mboweni whether the NHI would be launched without taking further budget from other departments and what the minister's position in this regard was.
Mboweni responded by saying that NHI's funding was a function of the national budget, which he could not comment about on the fly.
"I can't give you a figure on the cost of NHI; that would not be honest. If I said it was R2 and it turned out to be more, you would burn me at the stake," said Mboweni.
Don't wait for NHI
Mboweni said he did not believe NHI should be considered the only panacea to the challenges dogging the public healthcare system.
"We don't have to wait for NHI to be implemented to fix our public healthcare system. There are things that are within our power that can be fixed now," Mboweni said.
Mboweni also urged MPs not to allow ideological persuasions to dictate their views around the NHI without considering the benefits it could yield for South Africans.
"Some of us are ideologically opposed to the idea of NHI. We need to avoid that ideological contention. China achieved universal health coverage, even when they were much poorer. When they did that, the people were more active, and the economy thrived," he said.
In August, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize similarly said countries which have implemented NHI, such as Japan, were in a much better economic situation than they were when they started the programme.