NEW BILL CONFIRMS NHI VULNERABILITY

This article was published on the Legalbrief website on 8 August, when the Bill was tabled in Parliament. It was not included in that morning ’s edition of Legalbrief Today, which was posted before the Bill became available. A more detailed breakdown of the Bill ’s key provisions will follow next week.

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The National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill tabled in Parliament today seeks to provide South Africans with ‘access to needed health care that is of sufficient quality to be effective’, as well as ‘financial protection’ from its costs. According to a memorandum on the Bill’s objects, this is the aim of universal health coverage – as spelled out in the 2015 NHI White Paper. To that end, the Bill provides for the establishment of an NHI fund, setting out its powers, functions and governance structures.

The Bill proposes that – using ‘some’ conditional grants shifted from the Department of Health to the fund as well as ‘some or all’ monies for ‘personal health care services’ traditionally factored into the provincial equitable share formula – the fund will purchase health care services for all registered users. Reference is made specifically to moving the national tertiary services grant and the HIV/AIDS and TB grant from the Department of Health into the fund.

In addition, the fund’s executive authority ‘will bid for funds through the main budget as part of the budget process’. This is noting that, ‘in a favourable economic environment’, ‘new taxation options for the fund’ will be considered and could include either ‘a surcharge on income tax’ or ‘a small payroll tax’. Against that backdrop, it is envisaged that, over time, the fund will ‘expand coverage using certified and accredited public and private sector health facilities’.

In this regard, the memorandum refers to implementing ‘reforms’ in six phases, the first of which is apparently already a work in progress. Its focus is to improve ‘the quality of the health system by … certifying … health facilities to ensure (that) they meet the requirements of the Office of Health Standards Compliance’. The final phase will focus on expanding coverage to accommodate ‘maximum projected utilisation rates’ – and ‘gradually increasing the range of services to which there is a benefit entitlement’.

While the memorandum notes ‘legitimate’ concerns about ‘the affordability and sustainability of NHI’, it offers the assurance that ‘the nature of the proposed system’ and ‘the checks and balances that will be put in place’ will ‘limit unnecessary expenditure increases for supply-side as well as demand-side management’. The success or failure of NHI will be determined largely by the extent to which ‘high quality primary health care services’ ensure that ‘the majority of health problems’ are ‘diagnosed and treated at this level’.