By DOROTHY CHISI
NO one plans to get sick or hurt. But most people need medical care; such as a visit to see a doctor, a prescription drug, a lab test, physical therapy, counselling or some other type of medical attention at some point.
These services can be expensive.
And if something happens that requires surgery or emergency medical care, it becomes critical and a matter of life and death to have access to medical care.
The hospital bills that one incurs when accessing healthcare may vary from sums of money to considerably large amounts depending on the seriousness of particular ailments that need to be attended to.
However, it is difficult for some people to meet such costs on their own without resorting to their savings.
With the escalating of medical costs, some people may even compromise on accessing quality healthcare, because the higher the quality of care required, the more unaffordable to gets.
This is one of the issues the farmed the basis for introduction of health insurance.
Normally, health insurance provides anybody with the ability to afford better healthcare facilities for themselves and their loved ones.
To make this a reality in Zambia, the Government has decided to introduce a Bill, in Parliament, that will make everyone have access to quality healthcare through health insurance.
Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya who presented the National Health Insurance Bill to Parliament last year, said the Bill is aimed at providing for sound financing of the national health system and universal access to quality insured healthcare services.
Dr Chilufya said the Bill would also provide the establishment of the National Health Insurance Management Authority and provide for its functions and powers.
He said the Bill would further provide for the establishment of the National Health Insurance Scheme as well as provide for its systems, procedures and operations.
Dr Chilufya said as minister of Health, it was his the interest to take national health issues and employ foresight in whatever the ministry does instead of being relegated to fire fighting approaches.
“How many lives have we lost just because someone was worried about the cost of going to a clinic, or how being referred for scanning means calling family members to ask for K1,200?
“Any politician worth his or her salt must support our proposal to sacrifice a little to save life when it matters most,” he said.
Dr Chilufya said many people assume that a health insurance policy pays only for hospitalisation expenses, but that this was hardly the full picture.
He said at best, health insurance policies pay the bill for other expenses as well.
He noted that several benefits of health insurance policies remain unknown due to lack of knowledge.
A number of interest groups in the country have since supported the introduction of the health insurance Bill.
Health Professions Council of Zambia registrar Aaron Mujajati said the proposed National Health Insurance Bill was a progressive piece of legislation which must be supported by all well-meaning citizens.
Dr Mujajati said the council had received the Bill with excitement because it would improve on the already existing financing mechanisms for health.
He appealed to parliamentarians to support the Bill because it affected all Zambians regardless the status.
Dr Mujajati noted that quality healthcare would not only be concentrated in town but also in rural areas of the country.
Zambia Union of Government and Allied Workers called on its members and the general citizenry to support the implementation of the Public Service Health Insurance Scheme by the Government.
Union president Muyaywa Kabisa said he was hopeful the National Health Insurance Bill of 2017 would enhance access to healthcare services in the country.
Mr Kabisa said supporting the scheme will also help attain Government’s commitment to improve health and health related services as outlined in the Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP).
He said it would be unpatriotic if the Public Health Insurance Scheme was not supported by members of the union.
Zambia National Union of Teachers (ZNUT) has equally thrown its weight behind the National Health Insurance Bill.
The union has called on Members of Parliament (MPs) to expedite the process through to third reading.
ZNUT Secretary General Newman Bubala noted with concern the delay in implementation of the Public Health Insurance Scheme.
Mr Bubala said according to the collective agreement that was signed with Government, the scheme was scheduled to start on January 1, 20l8.
He said it was sad that the Bill, which is critical to the implementation of the on Health Insurance Scheme, had not even reached third reading stage in Parliament.
Speaking in a statement made available in Lusaka, Mr Bubala said it was the union’s desire that Dr Chilufya, with the support of MPs, expedites the process of making the Bill into law.
He said ZNUT was in support of the Bill.
He said the longer it took to make the Bill into law, the more it would delay to benefit employees, which he said was an injustice to the workers.
“ZNUT has noted with concern over the delay in the implementation of the Public Health Insurance Scheme. It is our desire that the Health minister, with the support of Members of Parliament, expedites this for the public good,” Mr Bubala said.
However, some stakeholders and interest groups are not in favour of the Health Insurance Bill, citing overtaxed employees with more financial obligations.
Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) said it was against the Bill that is currently in Parliament because it was taken there without any consultations.
ZCTU Deputy Secretary General Elaston Njovu said the Bill should be withdrawn because wider consultations with stakeholders on the proposed National Health Bill (NHI) were not done.
“ZCTU is insisting that the Bill should be withdrawn because wider consultations with stakeholders were not done; it was not brought before the Tripartite Consultative Labour Council,’ he said.
He explained that the Government and Zambians should understand that the ZCTU was not contradicting the position it had always held that there must be wider consultation on labour-related matters.
“It must also be made very clear that the proposed National Health Insurance is different from the health insurance scheme for public service workers which was signed between public service unions and the Government last year and should have been effected in January this year,” he said.
He said ZCTU did not know how much money would be deducted and other contents of the Bill.
“If Government forces this Bill to go through, it won’t work very well with regards to the ILO (International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“When we go to Geneva for the ILO, those conferences that take place every year, we go
there as a team: the employers, Government and the workers. We are not supposed to go there divided on issues. But if they (the Government) want us to be reporting negatively, then let them go ahead and do that,” he said.
Mr Njovu said Ministry of Health should concentrate on its core function of health service delivery.
He said the National Health Insurance Bill should not be used to cure the current low funding to the Ministry of Health which results in lack of medicines, shortages of medical personnel and poor infrastructure.
Zambia Federation of Employers (ZFE) president Wesley Chishimba said he was concerned that if the Bill was passed, no Zambian would be allowed to receive any medical service in any Government health centre without financial subscription to the National Health Insurance Authority.
Mr Chishimba said this would have a negative impact on an ordinary employee’s payslip due to the large sums of money they pay in form of taxes to the State.
He said the proposed Bill would create a burden on every Zambian, especially the majority of the unemployed youths who were struggling to survive.
The Natiional Heath Strategic Plan (NHSP) of 2017-2012 envisions a prosperous country where all Zambians have access to quality health services.
The plan identifies strategies and programmes which would ensure that people were healthy and able to contribute to economic development as articulated in the Vision 2030 and 7NDP.
Support the establishment of the Health Insurance Policy could, therefore, be regarded as one of the ways to achieve universal healthcare coverage to the people of Zambia.
But now, it remains to be seen whether the law makers will the interest the lives of the people whom they represent first as the Bill is debated on in Parliament.