COTU: Resist veiled attempts to kill NHIF through an amendment bill

Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) Secretary-General Francis Atwoli. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

President Moi left us with a functioning health system and a highly effective education system. It is sad that over the years, these two have been downgraded to deplorable and sorry status.  

In 2012, whilst representing workers in the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) board, I opposed the implementation of the new membership contribution rates on the basis that as constituted then, NHIF did not have capacity to manage huge funds from increased contributions.

At the same time I cited that prior to the implementation of the new rates, NHIF did not engage Cotu(K) as the umbrella workers body in the country in order to get its views. The NHIF fund has since been struggling to meet its obligations. Workers have lost millions under the fund due to a lack of accountability. This fund has, over time, become a cash cow for politicians.

Recently, Amos Kimunya, Leader of Majority in Parliament, introduced the National Hospital Insurance Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that seeks to not only amend NHIF Act No. 9 of 1998, but also disband NHIF as we know it. Cotu opposes the amendments contained in the NHIF Amendment Bill. Here’s why. NHIF was established by workers and formalised under Cap 255 of the Laws of Kenya in 1966 as a department in the Ministry of Health to provide health insurance exclusively for those in formal employment.

Therefore, the core mandate of the fund is, and remains, to provide medical insurance cover to all its members and their declared dependents.  It goes without saying that initiators and supporters of this Bill have ill motives.

What is it that the Bill wants NHIF to do with the money it seeks to collect from Kenyans above 18 years that they have been unable to do with the money contributed by the over eight million NHIF members? The Bill also seeks to coerce Kenyans to contribute towards NHIF without assuring them reliable services. It is wrong to use laws to coerce Kenyans to contribute to any scheme.

Additionally, the management of NHIF is yet to conduct any proper consultation and engagement to get views from both workers and employers as required by Convention 144 of the ILO on social dialogue. More seriously, Cotu(K) is reliably informed that even the NHIF board did not have a meeting that discussed the NHIF amendment bill.

Any attempts to disband the NHIF, as envisaged in the proposed amendments, will leave workers under the umbrella of Cotu-K  with no option but to move to court to seek an order to annul such attempts.  

Mr Atwoli is secretary general, Central Organisation of Trade Unions (K)