Johannesburg – The African National Congress (ANC) on Wednesday welcomed the passing of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill as a catalyst and vehicle for universal health access.
The NHI Bill, which seeks universal access to healthcare for South Africans – was passed by the National Assembly on Tuesday.
“This historic development paves the way for all South Africans to free medical health care effectively and sustainably in line with our vision for a caring society with access to services irrespective of income levels,” the ANC said in a communique issued by national spokesperson, Mahlengi Bhengu-Motsiri.
The ANC added: “Parliament’s passing of the Bill will accelerate the overhaul of the medical system that is inclusive and responsive to the needs of the poor.
“This overhaul will lead to improved health infrastructure, a capable and sustainable healthcare service”.
“This development is in line with the government’s constitutional imperative of the recognition of healthcare as a fundamental human right and the ANC’s vision of a better life for all.”
On Tuesday, Health Minister Dr. Joe Phaahla said: “The Ministry and Department of Health welcome the passing of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill by the National Assembly today”.
He added: “It has been painstaking work in the past five years since the adoption of the White Paper on NHI 2017”.
The health minister said a huge amount of work has been done in this regard to ensure that “we arrive at this moment of reckoning in South Africa”.
For the first time since the dawn of democracy, the health sector is to undergo fundamental reform aiming at building an equitable, accessible, affordable, and strengthened healthcare system.
“The government considers the passing of the NHI Bill by the National Assembly as a key milestone to ensure all the people of South Africa have access to the same clinic or hospital (either public or private), closer to where they live or work without paying – the government will pay,” said Dr. Phaahla.
He said the NHI will usher in major reforms in the health sector with the objective to build an equitable, accessible, affordable, and strengthened healthcare system in the country.
The minister said the government recognises the efforts by all stakeholders who exercised their constitutional rights and participated in this legislative process to influence the decision-making process on the NHI Bill.
“We were never oblivious and ignorant that there will be different opinions, views, and perspectives on how health reform must be undertaken in the country, and we would continue to urge all the interested parties and stakeholders to continue engagements as the Bill will have to go through the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for concurrence,” Dr. Phaahla.
“We are convinced that the NHI is the vehicle suitable to drive our health reform programme and is capable of delivering the desired result to ensure those who are deprived of an improved quality healthcare have access too.
“The NHI is a fund from which the government will buy healthcare services for South Africans from healthcare providers both in the public and private sector.
“It is a fund to pay for healthcare, and all of us will contribute to this fund through taxes and special contributions in line with what we can afford.”
Dr. Phaahla explained that the NHI will ensure that everyone is entitled to free healthcare when they need it, and there will be no fees charged at the facility because the fund will cover the costs of care.
He said the NHI will enter into contracts with private and public health facilities (hospitals), as well as private health practitioners to provide services.
“It will strengthen the hand of healthcare consumer and keep the cost of delivering healthcare reasonable while ensuring that healthcare providers receive a fair rate for their services,” explained the minister.
“Each one will be able to choose any NHI-contracted provider in your neighborhood for regular health needs at the expense of government.
“We have, accordingly, noted concerns raised by different stakeholders in the consultation and submission process, which we deem important to make these reforms successful.
“We believe that some of them are process issues that will assume shape as we progress to implement the provisions of the Bill after the conclusion of the Parliamentary process.”
However, detractors point to the poor state of the public healthcare system as proof that the NHI will be a disaster.
Soon after the NHI Bill was passed, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said it has instructed its attorneys to deliver a letter of demand to President Ramaphosa “to send the unconstitutional, reckless and impractical NHI Bill” back to Parliament for reconsideration.
“Should the President refuse this request, the DA, along with other civil society organisations, will reserve their right to challenge the legality of the Bill in court,” said the DA.
“As the DA has highlighted previously, the NHI Bill is completely out of touch with reality as South Africa is in no state to be able to afford the incredible financial burden of implementing the NHI.”
The DA complained that the ANC used its majority to bulldoze the disastrous NHI Bill through the Health Committee and both Houses of Parliament.
The Economic Freedom Fighters said: “The Passing Of The National Health Insurance Bill In Parliament – In its true form, the NHI is an overt admittance by the ANC government of its failure to build a working health system for our people.
“They have thus resolved to outsource healthcare and our people’s wellbeing to the private sector.”
NEHAWU said it welcomes the adoption of the NHI Bill by the National Assembly.
“The Bill now proceeds to the National Council of Province for debate and thereafter be sent to the President for his assent,” NEHAWU said.