A senior citizen called to relate her concerns with public healthcare funding or lack of it in Kenya.
Her attention had been drawn to the last column I wrote on the government’s proposal to introduce mandatory contributions to the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) by households as part of its efforts to roll out the universal health coverage (UHC) programme.
Like many Kenyans, she would love to see the UHC work so that the vast majority of Kenyans who can’t afford private medical insurance can still access decent healthcare. As a student on a scholarship at a British university in the 1970s, she experienced first-hand the benefits of a publicly funded healthcare system.
“Although I was a foreigner I would see an NHS (National Health Service) doctor where I lived. I think British’s is the best example of a publicly funded healthcare system in the world,” she said.
The 73-year-old NHS, established as part of the major social reforms following the Second World War, is funded by taxpayers and provides medical care to all UK citizens based on their need rather than ability to pay. If you follow the UK politics, you might have realised that public healthcare funding is the one ever-present concern of voters in election campaigns, with candidates for prime minister compelled to sell their plans for the NHS.
Kenyan policymakers have in the past talked of their aspirations to model the NHIF on the British NHS. Looking at public comments on the latest proposal by the government to enforce mandatory NHF contributions, a majority of Kenyans appear to be concerned about the KShs500 households will be asked to part with monthly.
Deputy President William Ruto waded into the debate this week, saying most low-income households would struggle to make the contributions.
But the senior citizen raised another concern that the government seems to be overlooking. How many Kenyans would trust the NHIF with their money – any amount of money?
Her cynicism is reinforced by a nasty experience her family had with the NHIF while seeking medical care not so long ago for her seriously ill sister.
Despite the sister having consistently made monthly contributions under the voluntary scheme for people in non-formal or self-employed, she said the NHIF shockingly refused to pay for laboratory tests that had been recommended.
Her sense of grievance is so deep that she’d rather see the money Kenyans are giving the national health insurer diverted to the individual fund manager across the street.
“They (NHIF) collect money from the poor to cater to medical needs of rich civil servants,” she said.
Of course, her sister’s case isn’t isolated. There have been reports of the same NHIF picking bills for others in foreign hospitals.