Uhurucare: Will Kenyans finally enjoy elusive healthcare dream?

President Uhuru Kenyatta

As President Uhuru Kenyatta moves to secure his legacy under the Big Four Agenda, healthcare is increasingly becoming his pet project.

Since the turn of the New Year, the President has given keen attention to health even as he moves to deliver on his key promises of food security, affordable housing and manufacturing, the four key sectors he hopes he will be remembered for as Kenya’s fourth President.

In what is being referred to as Uhurucare, the President has embarked on a multi-pronged strategy to give affordable universal healthcare to Kenyans, the latest of which was Friday’s launch of the Sh4 billion student medical scheme.

In the plan launched at State House on Friday, the President said the government will pay Sh1,350 per student to insure all learners in public secondary schools starting next month.

100% cover

In his visit to the Carribean island of Cuba last month, Uhuru negotiated a number of deals for mutual cooperation between the two countries, especially in healthcare. As part of the deal, hundreds of Cuban doctors are expected in Kenya, to be distributed among the 47 counties.

The President is expected to lay out an elaborate agenda before the governors as he seeks to convince them to prioritse healthcare, State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu said.

But will the government get it right this time around?

Uhuru’s push for universal healthcare can be traced back to 1963.

When Kenya attained independence, founding President Jomo Kenyatta’s rallying call was for Kenyans to work hard and kill the enemies of “umaskini, ujinga na ugonjwa (poverty, illiteracy and disease)”.

Now 55 years later, his son has taken the mantle, making universal healthcare the cornerstone of his legacy project.

“The President wants to ensure that a common man wakes up in their own home, has predictable food basket, a secure job in a growing job market and is not afraid of getting sick or taking care of their sick family through universal health care plan,” said Esipisu.

During the launch of the students medical cover, which will be managed by the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), President Kenyatta said the negotiated comprehensive cover is unique since it only caters for students.

“President Kenyatta has clearly identified this ambitious project and is putting every effort to ensure they become a reality. He believes they are achievable,” he said.

According to the Health Principal Secretary Peter Tum, the government projects to achieve 100 per cent medical cover by 2022 by scaling up the NHIF cover. Tum said the NHIF cover now stands at 56 per cent, up from 36 per cent last year.

“One of the priority initiatives target by December 2018 in President Kenyatta’s ambitious programme is to scale up NHIF as part of ensuring universal healthcare,” said Tum.

The PS said the government hopes to enlist 37,000 banking agents network, mobile telecom networks, self help groups, saccos and religious organisations for advocacy to increase NHIF membership to 25 million Kenyans from the current 16.5 million.

Future plans

The Big Four document highlights future plans to launch segregated multi-tiered package of insurance. This package will have bronze for affordable outpatient and inpatient; silver for outpatient and inpatient with specialised treatment; and gold for premium outpatient and inpatient.

To fund Uhurucare, the government plans to dedicate a percentage of excise duty and sin tax to health to ensure a gradual increment of budgetary allocation to health from seven per cent  in 2017 to 10 per cent by 2022.

At the centre of Uhurucare is NHIF, which has been receiving monthly payments pegged at about Sh150 for individuals earning up to Sh5,999 and Sh1,700 for those earning Sh100,000 for those employed and Sh500 for those in self-employment.

The Ministry of Health, Tum said, will also increase access to services, strengthen primary healthcare, increase medical staff, ensure adequate medical supplies and digitise health operations.

And the government hopes to leverage on public-private partnerships to achieve this.