Uhuru urges MPs to pass proposed health laws fast

Friday, May 28th, 2021 00:00 |
President Uhuru Kenyatta delivers his speech at Parliament Buildings in Nairobi county during the 18th Annual National Prayer Breakfast co-hosted by the two Speakers of Kenya’s bicameral Parliament, Justin Muturi (National Assembly) and Kenneth Lusaka (Senate), yesterday. Photo/PD/Samuel Kariuki

Mercy Mwai  @wangumarci

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday asked Parliament to fast track passage of laws to address effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 Speaking during the 18th Annual National Prayer Breakfast at Parliament Buildings, Uhuru said passage of the proposals currently pending before Parliament would ensure Kenyans access health insurance, which will in turn help in realisation of universal healthcare. 

The President said the National Prayer Day ceremony was being conducted at a time the world is confronted with the worst health crisis that has demonstrated the need for all to work together to enable the country to overcome the current challenges.

 “Today, my message to the two Speakers both in the Senate and National Assembly and the entire parliamentary leadership is that there are proposals before you, proposals that will ensure that every Kenyan will be able to access health insurance because health insurance is the basis for us to be able to access universal health care.

Please expedite this legislation that would allow us to ensure that poor people are taken care of not only during this pandemic but also in future,” said Uhuru.

His appeal came after Busia Senator Amos Wako, Covid-19 survivor, lamented about the high cost of accessing treatment once diagnosed with the disease.

Wako noted that most private hospitals were demanding between Sh300,000 and Sh500,000 to admit a Covid-19 patient, way beyond the reach of most Kenyans.  

 The former Attorney General explained that he got the best medical care because he had a comprehensive medical cover that took care of all his bills.

 According to the President, Wako’s humbling encounter with the deadly virus and the views from experts should push Parliament to speed up passage of the said amendments.

 “We have heard from health experts and from our senior Amos Wako about the challenges he has gone through as a result of this pandemic.

He talked about how a number of millions are probably unable to access the same standard of health care that he was able to get just because they don’t have insurance cover.

The fact that millions are unable to access the standards and health care he got, means this is the time to pass proposals that will assist Kenyans get access to health insurance,” he said.

Compulsory contribution

 His sentiments come days after the Leader of Majority in the National Assembly Amos Kimunya tabled amendments to the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) Act that will henceforth require every Kenyan to make a compulsory contribution of Sh500 a month.

 The Bill also seeks to convert the Fund into a national health insurance scheme that will make it compulsory for Kenyans over 18 years to make a compulsory contribution of Sh500 in a remodelled Universal Health Coverage (UHC) programme for outpatient and inpatient services, including maternity, dialysis, cancer treatment and surgery.  

“The Bill proposes to insert a new Section 15A to make it mandatory for any person, who has attained the age of 18 years and is not a beneficiary, to register as a member of the Fund,” states the memorandum of the Bill. 

Employers, on the other hand, will be required to make a matching contribution to the Fund equal to that which the employee is liable and not deduct the same from employees’ salaries if proposals to amend Section 15 of the NHIF Act are adopted.

 On instances where a beneficiary of the NHIF has a private health insurance cover, the Bill provides that the private health insurance will be liable for payments up to the limits the beneficiary is covered and the Fund shall only cover the outstanding amount where private insurance cover’s limit has been exhausted subject to the limits provided.

 The Bill has, however, attracted heavy criticism from the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) and its 45 affiliates, who have termed the proposed amendments illegal. 

Heavy criticism

Some of the amendments Cotu is objected to include mandatory contribution, conversion of the Fund to a scheme as well as failure to conduct public participation and stakeholder engagement on the proposals.

 In a statement to newsrooms, Cotu-K secretary general Francis Atwoli claimed the amendments, which seek to convert the Fund to a scheme, would essentially disband NHIF and bring up an amorphous body with a new mandate and new objective.

 Atwoli noted that as currently constituted the Fund, which is meant to assist workers cover their medical expenses, has over time been converted into a cash cow where senior and junior employees pilfer funds for personal use.

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