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Universal Health Coverage Under the Spotlight

May 12, 2022

Department of Health

Government remains committed to achieving universal health coverage for all South Africans.

Speaking in parliament during the health department’s 2022/23 budget vote, the health minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, called on all members of parliament to support the National Health Insurance Bill.

The bill was tabled in parliament in 2019.

It aims to:

• achieve universal access to quality health care services in the Republic in accordance with section 27 of the Constitution;
• establish a National Health Insurance Fund and to set out its powers, functions and governance structures;
• provide a framework for the strategic purchasing of health care services by the Fund on behalf of users;
• create mechanisms for the equitable, effective and efficient utilisation of the resources of the Fund to meet the health needs of the population;
• preclude or limit undesirable, unethical and unlawful practices in relation to the Fund and its users; and
• provide for matters connected herewith.

The bill flows from the National Health Insurance (NHI) White Paper, published in June 2017.

It sets out government’s proposals to put a universal health coverage system in place.

The NHI aims to pool funds to provide access to quality and affordable health services for all South Africans based on their health needs and irrespective of their socio-economic status.

It is described as representing a substantial policy shift that will require a significant re-organisation of the current health care system, both private and public.

The vision is that health care should be regarded as a social investment and not subjected to market forces.

The NHI Fund will purchase health care services for all users who are registered with the Fund.

In the budget vote speech, the minister declared that government is “laying the foundation for a strong public health system, which will underpin an integrated health service for the country”.

The minister also pointed out that Covid-19 has facilitated closer cooperation with the private health sector “from sharing hospital beds availability to common platform for reporting on Covid-19 tests and a common recording system for vaccination, the EVDS which is wholly owned by the National Department of Health”.

He added that a ring-fenced amount to prepare for implementation of the NHI is in place “such as the benefits design and pricing, provider accreditation, management of health products procurement, further development of the digital information systems and developing risk management and anti-corruption systems”.

In his budget vote speech, the deputy minister of health, Dr. Sibongiseni Dhlomo, indicated that the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) also “continues to be agile in response to the Covid-19 pandemic by focusing on the three pillars of safety, quality and efficacy by ensuring that it fast-tracks priority health products to protect and save lives”.

He added that, as South Africans continue to receive Covid-19 immunisation, SAHPRA is closely monitoring the Covid-19 adverse events through the MedSafety App.