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Why any move to make health care cheaper is welcome

By Mike Nyagwoka | October 3rd 2021
A radiographer operates a 64 slice CT Scan machine at Kisii Teaching and Referral Hospital. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

If there is one thing that has impoverished Kenyan families, it is medical bills. In the era of social media and WhatsApp fundraisings, we have all at one point or another found ourselves having to contribute for family and friends to be able to afford treatment in or out of the country -- mostly in India.

The bills are rarely in thousands, but millions. In our never-ending Ubuntu spirit, we never tire. When the money cannot be raised directly from people’s pockets, the little land or any other property owned has to find a new owner. If the patient gets well, the better. Sometimes it never ends well.

It has become a norm for hospitals to detain bodies of loved ones, causing even further pain. It is for this reason that Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s promise to crack down on private hospitals that detain bodies and bill exaggerated amounts must be supported. Sixty days of admission in private hospitals can attract bills over Sh7 million. Terrible. How Kagwe will be able to tame the hospitals is not yet clear but he has hinted on regulating the fee charged for various services. The best way to do it is to have a comprehensive bill in parliament that puts into law the regulations proposed.

The better way is to make public health facilities even more affordable and accessible. Through taxes, Kenyans have paid enough for public hospitals to be well equipped. Being a devolved function, governors have the responsibility to ensure that hospitals are not just the infrastructure, but also services rendered and affordably so.

Programmes like the Kitui healthcare, where the county has offered to pay 50 per cent of the required NHIF contributions for over 80,000 residents who cannot afford the Sh6,000 per year charge, should be emulated across the country.

In Makueni, it is even better particularly for residents who seek treatment within the county. For just Sh500 per household per year, the nearly 200,000 residents are covered for treatment within the county hospitals. Even surgeries are completely free.

While all this is happening, the National Assembly has also passed the new NHIF Bill that makes it mandatory for everyone over the age of 18 to pay Sh6,000 per year to be enrolled into the National Health Scheme. This is another good move, but with gaps that must be addressed.

The few successful examples should be used as a yardstick for the implementation of the UHC nationally.

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