At a recent media briefing session hosted by the Board of Healthcare Funders (BHF), managing director, Dr Katlego Mothudi, together with a distinguished panel of healthcare leaders addressed critical concerns regarding the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill proposed by the South African government.
The panellists, including BHF’s chairperson, Ms Neo Khauoe, Dr Stan Moloabi, chairperson of the BHF's Universal Health Coverage Committee (UHC), Dr Mvuyisi Mzukwa, chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), Prof Alex van der Heever, an expert in Health Care Governance at University of Witwatersrand (WITS), and BHF's head of Health System Strengthening, Dr Rajesh Patel, jointly emphasised the critical importance of addressing the current shortcomings in the NHI Bill. The panel highlighted the urgent need for systematic amendments before the Bill's implementation.
While the BHF supports the concept of universal health coverage, Neo Khauoe strongly disagrees with the approach of the NHI Bill that public healthcare funding must increase at the expense of medical schemes.
“The private health funding sector in South Africa should not be sacrificed in favour of NHI. It is too valuable in terms of jobs, scarce skills, infrastructure, financial investment, the quality of the health care services its beneficiaries receive, the value it adds to the economy, and the support it has lent to the public health sector,’’ she said.
Dr Patel, highlighting concerns within Section 33 of the Bill, pointing out the need for clarity in the Minister's decision-making processes regarding the inclusion of rules for thorough implementation and addressed ambiguity in NHI contracting with health service providers. He said, one of the bigger complications is that maternity care has been excluded from the medical scheme's benefits.
“There are absolutely no indicators in Section 33 to guide the Minister as to when NHI is fully implemented. Section 33 is thus contrary to the constitutional principle of administrative justice and allows the Minister to act arbitrarily. The determination by the Minister is an administrative decision that is subject to Section 33 of the Constitution and the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act No. 3 of 2000. As such, it must be lawful, reasonable, and procedurally fair. How is the Minister to know what will make his decision lawful if Parliament gives him no guidance in the NHI Act? The minister is not the lawmaker. That is Parliament’s role,” said Dr Patel.
The private health service providers are estimated to be between 65 000 and 70 000 individuals and entities. The issues raised include the capacity for the responsible party for certifying and accrediting these health service providers and facilities, which will thereafter determine their eligibility for contractual engagement. The slow pace of certification and accreditation may limit access to care for healthcare users, as the user must register with NHI via accredited health service providers. Should contractual arrangements fail the health citizens risk not being funded from the NHI.
Dr Moloabi, chair of the UHC Committee at BHFs, emphasised that medical schemes are important in healthcare provision and this importance is beyond just financial aspects. Serving as an integral stakeholder in the ecosystem that allows the health citizen’ to access the necessary health services in a timely, effective, and efficient manner, ultimately ensuring the provision of high-quality care. Dr Moloabi concluded by saying, As private healthcare funders, our primary goal is to actively collaborate with policymakers, which is crucial to achieving our shared objective of achieving UHC.
According to Prof Van der Heever, the NHI Bill is designed in a manner that will further undermine the already precarious situation of the South African healthcare sector. The discourse surrounding the move towards the achievement of universal health coverage in the country necessitates a comprehensive examination of the underlying goals associated with the concept of universal health care. Medical schemes are currently an integral component of the health system providing cover to 9 million lives. The hybrid universal coverage model is widely employed across the globe. He expressed his concerns pertaining to the single funder in the NHI Bill and the pressure on the health care system should all citizens rely on a single scheme. Furthermore a single fund is an impractical approach for both rich and developing countries. Given South Africa's limited GDP strength, such a proposition appears particularly unreasonable.
Neo Khaoue specifically emphasised the expected discrepancy in healthcare accessibility rates among employees under the NHI Bill in comparison to the existing system. The discrepancy is anticipated to extend the duration of employees' recuperation, resulting in supplementary expenses for employers because of the postponed resumption of employees' work duties. Khauoe questioned the means through which discrepancies between private and public healthcare systems can be mitigated, particularly considering the existing difficulty of lengthy waiting times for various medical treatments.
She said, “What strategies could be used to help the NHI Bill to simplify some of its processes, for example, if one is prepared for a certain operation but there is no anaesthesia available and the procedure is not performed on the specified day, what then? Furthermore, it is imperative to establish a reliable mechanism to guarantee that those who have been scheduled for operations or procedures will indeed undergo them on the designated days without any rescheduling. This demonstrates the necessity of both public and private sector involvement in addressing and resolving existing imbalances as a primary concern.”
According to Dr Mzukwa, the chairman of SAMA, the NHI Bill has the potential to impose financial consequences on healthcare practitioners. Although healthcare providers may qualify for payment for services provided to beneficiaries of the NHI, it is important to note that the rates for these services may be standardised. This standardisation could potentially lead to a decrease in their revenue compared to the fees charged in private practice. Therefore, it may be necessary for practitioners to adjust their financial expectations and business strategies. He affirmed that the potential consequences of NHI could vary significantly depending on the legislative and regulatory framework in place. He went on to say, “Nevertheless, it is crucial to consider the financial implications for healthcare professionals when finalising the NHI Bill. The most important thing is that as the private health care practitioners we want to participate via collaboration with the policy makers in ensuring that we achieve those ideas they have.”
"As BHF, we are resolute that we provide the health citizen with a comprehensive understanding of the potential implications, challenges, and shortcomings of the NHI Bill before the upcoming provincial briefing sessions to be convened by the government. This is essential for fostering transparency, informed public discourse, and evidence-based policymaking in healthcare reforms and for giving South Africans a clear understanding of how the Bill will affect the lives of every citizen. I urge all South Africans to participate as it will impact all of us," Dr Mothudi said.
Dr Mothudi highlighted that BHF firmly supports the freedom of the people of South Africa to spend their disposable income as they see fit, including insuring any of their health needs through medical schemes. This right is derived from the constitutional value of personal freedom in a democratic society and the rights to human dignity, privacy, freedom of association, freedom of thought, belief, and opinion, and the right to have access to health care services and emergency medical treatment. “The NHI Bill is anticipated to have a cascading impact on the already declining state of the public health system in South Africa,” concluded Dr Mothudi.