The government is forging ahead with preparations for universal health coverage in South Africa through the National Health Insurance (NHI), Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has said.
Speaking during Parliament’s debate on the Department of Health’s budget vote on Thursday, Mkhize said the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted Parliament’s processes on the NHI Bill.
However, he said the NHI information systems capacity has been “augmented, strengthened, and dramatically improved” over the past few months.
“We have established a patient registry through the deployment of the Health Patient Registration System in our PHC facilities and hospitals. To date, a total of 51,909,554 patients have been registered,” Mkhize said.
The Department has also developed a Health Systems dashboard that will be used as an early warning system for hospital infrastructure and operations across the country.
Mkhize said the Department has developed a 10-year national health infrastructure plan for the construction of health facilities on a sustainable basis.
He added, “Healthcare infrastructure will focus on the provision of new hospitals, CHCs, clinics and maintenance, upgrading of established facilities that needs to be expedited to improve citizen’s access to more advance healthcare facilities.
“The Department has also prepared a proposal for resolving health infrastructure backlogs in preparation for NHI. This proposal will also play a significant role in job creation and stimulating economic growth and transformation of the construction sector.”
The Department is now in consultations with the National treasury, Development Bank of South Africa (DBSA) and private sector investors on these proposals, the Minister said.
Before the onset of COVID-19 in South Africa, Parliament was conducting countrywide public hearings on the NHI Bill, which has drawn strong opposition from some quarters, including the Democratic Alliance (DA).
NHI Bill’s proposals
The Bill proposes to give access to health services to every citizen, permanent resident, refugee and individuals falling into specific categories of foreign nationals “agreed upon” by the health and international relations ministers.
According to its proposals, medical aid schemes will not be able to provide cover for services that are paid for by the NHI and will only provide “complementary cover.”
Critics, such as medical aid scheme provider Discovery, have said limiting people’s options “will seriously curtail the healthcare they expect and demand.”
However, President Cyril Ramaphosa defended the Bill in February, saying pegging access to quality healthcare to one’s ability to pay for it “is one of the greatest travesties of our time.”
He added, “South Africa has two parallel health care systems. Around R250 billion is spent annually on less than 20 percent of the population. This is the section of our population that has access to private medical insurance. On the other hand, our country spends R220 billion on rest of the population.
“We cannot build a prosperous and economically thriving nation if a small minority of our workforce is healthy while the majority is vulnerable to ill-health and disease. In this respect, NHI is as much an economic issue as it is a fight for social justice.”