Kenya's headache of healthcare for all

Saturday December 2 2017

A mother with her newborn at a hospital. NMG

A mother with her newborn at a hospital. The Kenyan government seeks to give universal healthcare. PHOTO | NMG 

By The EastAfrican
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President Uhuru Kenyatta has chosen free universal healthcare to write his legacy.

“Over the next five years, my administration will target 100 per cent healthcare coverage for households,” the President said during his inauguration.

His predecessor Mwai Kibaki had made a similar pledge in 2002, but declined to assent to a Bill that would have brought the dream to reality, after intensive lobbying by the private insurers, who feared losing business.

The President said he would be working to reform the country’s private insurance sector in actualising the pledge.

Tom Gichuhi, Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI) chief executive, welcomed the President’s pledge, but noted that they needed to see the details.

“We are waiting to hear more, because this is probably something that has to go through the legislative process,” Mr Gichuhi said.

He added that the sector is not opposed to universal healthcare, as it is a primary responsibility of the government and there will still be role of the private insurers in catering for needs outside those covered by National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

The President hopes to use NHIF to drive this agenda, with a promise of increasing its membership to 13 million Kenyans from the current 6.8 million within the next five years.

“This vision will be driven by a reconfiguration of the National Hospital Insurance Fund and reform of the laws governing private insurance companies,” said Mr Kenyatta.

The decision to use NHIF may prove problematic, given the public image of the institution, which is associated with inefficiency and corruption by many.

Under the 2004 Bill by then minister of health and current Kitui governor Charity Ngilu, NHIF was to be replaced by National Social Health Insurance Fund, which was to be funded by donors, a portion of value added tax and member contributions.

NHIF has recently come under sharp focus after its proposal to cap the number of outpatient visits to four in an year, a move that would affect the poor and most vulnerable in the community.

Public outcry saw the government suspend the plan, which could be revived under the new programme. Funding of the project will be tricky, given the growing fiscal deficit that the government is facing.