another hustle

Kenya: Ruto proposes bill to rescue ‘ailing’ national health insurance scheme

By Victor Abuso

Posted on June 29, 2023 09:34

 © A patient has her blood pressure taken in Lungu, Kenya. (Wikimedia Commons CC USAF)
A patient has her blood pressure taken in Lungu, Kenya. (Wikimedia Commons CC USAF)

President William Ruto has proposed a new health bill he wants passed by parliament to levy an additional 2.75% deduction from Kenyans’ monthly gross salary to contribute to the country’s National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF).

All Kenyans aged 18 and above, whether employed or not, will be forced to contribute to the insurance scheme in order to access medical services, according to the proposals.

Ruto says the increase will enhance equality and consolidate contributions to the national health scheme, and help his administration achieve universal health coverage, targeting poor Kenyans.

“We want low-income earners to contribute less. The rich should contribute more,” Ruto announced at a church function in Kajiado, South of the Capital Nairobi.

Defending the proposals in an interview with Citizen TV, NHIF board chairperson Michael Kamau said the change was necessary to help low-income earners who have been carrying the burden of contributing more to the scheme.

“The new rates will be beneficial to patients. We want an equal playing field,” he said.

According to current contributions, anyone earning a salary of Ksh100,000 ($712) and above pays a monthly contribution of Ksh1,700 ($12). This is set to increase to Ksh2,700, according to the proposal.

Mixed reactions to proposed health fees

However, low earners who have been paying Ksh500 monthly will have a reduction in fees of up to Ksh300 to access health services.

Irene Kavindu, who sells second-hand clothes (mitumba) in Nairobi says she pays Ksh500 a month to the scheme – the reduction will be a relief for her.

“Economic times are hard. I’m glad for once, Ruto has thought of the real hustlers,” she says.

For employed Kenyans, like Benson Wanyonyi, the increase in contributions is another painful moment, coming a few days after Ruto signed into law the controversial Finance Bill 2023 that seeks increased taxes including a monthly mandatory housing levy for those in formal employment.

“This government is punishing us. Ruto is taking everything,” he tells The Africa Report.

Earlier this year in its latest financial report, the NHIF indicated that due to harsh economic times, more than eight million of its members had defaulted their monthly contributions

New proposals amid confusion, graft allegations

Theft of funds scandals have rocked the national insurer, leaving vulnerable patients who cannot access private health facilities to suffer.

In May, more than 300 hospitals, including private hospitals across the country, rejected the NHIF cards, accusing the insurer of non-payment.

Health Minister Susan Nakhumicha admitted that hospitals had not been paid more than Ksh20bn by NHIF, saying its funds had not been released by the Finance Ministry, and promising a change in the scheme.

Earlier in June, senior officials from the scheme were suspended by Nakhumicha after an investigative report from the Nation Media revealed theft of millions of Kenyan shillings meant to facilitate health services to citizens.

Sam Olando, a social-economic rights specialist, tells The Africa Report that the government should have first dealt with graft accusations before coming up with the proposals.

“The majority of Kenyans don’t trust the NHIF due mismanagement of funds. It’s shocking that no one has been arrested or prosecuted,” he says.

Parliament, through its Departmental Committee on Health, has announced a public inquiry into fraudulent activities at the national health insurer.

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