Legislators did a good job on NHIF Amendment Bill

OPINION |
Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The National Health Insurance Fund Amendment Bill 2021 passed by the National Assembly recently is a timely intervention. The Bill, which is now awaiting Presidential assent to become law, provides the necessary legal framework for the attainment of Universal Health Coverage in the country.

The National Assembly passed the Bill on Tuesday, December 21 without any changes to the amendments made by the Senate earlier. I commend the two houses of Parliament for putting the health of Kenyans first.

In my view, accelerating the attainment of UHC is one of the best gifts the legislators could have given their electorate coming at a time when the world is battling covid-19. The NHIF Amendment Bill is a win for all. Beneficiaries who were previously not covered by the Fund will now be covered, healthcare providers will now find it easier to realise their markups and NHIF will be able to offer an expanded package worthy of a 21st-century health insurance fund.

The Bill makes it mandatory for all Kenyans aged above 18 to have NHIF membership. Currently, many people working in the informal sector have not enrolled on the programme due to its voluntary nature despite having the ability to pay the NHIF premiums. NHIF currently covers over 31 million Kenyans. However, the number of people actively contributing stands low at about 40 per cent of the registered members.

With more contributors, it will now be easier for NHIF to create a sufficient financial base to provide health cover to all Kenyans. The higher the number of members, the less a benefits package will cost due to economies of scale. Universal health coverage will make fundraisers cater for hospital bills a thing of the past. At the moment, it is common to see even Kenyans deemed to be well-off organising a fundraiser whenever a family member falls sick.  

Better still, the amended law prevents NHIF from withdrawing the benefits of a person undergoing treatment for a chronic illness, a welcome move considering the increasing number of Kenyans suffering non-communicable diseases in the recent past.

Under the amended law, the NHIF board will carry out a review of applicable tariffs payable out of the fund to contracted healthcare providers every two years. This will enable the health insurer to periodically increase its funding pool to match the rise in treatment costs. NHIF last reviewed its rates in 2015.

Senator Mutahi Kagwe is the Cabinet Secretary for Health. 

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