‘NHI tax to equal aid scheme costs’

By Michelle Pietersen Time of article published Aug 24, 2011

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South Africans will not pay more towards the National Health Insurance Fund (NHI) than their medical aid contributions, the Department of Health has pledged, but MPs have questioned whether the government has the capacity to pull off its most ambitious project yet.

“We will make sure (NHI tax) won’t be more than they are currently paying,” said Anban Pillay, the chief director of health economics at the department.

The director-general, Malebona Matsoso, and other department officials presented the proposed NHI policy to the National Assembly’s standing committee on appropriations on Tuesday.

Like the NHI green paper released earlier, the officials provided details of the project, aimed at providing improved access to quality health services for all people, whether or not they are employed.

Pillay said the health system would be overhauled, with hospitals being redesignated as district, regional, tertiary or specialised.

The draft bill on the Office of Health Standards Compliance was with state law advisers and expected to be tabled in Parliament soon.

The office – an independent body – would be responsible for the inspection and certification of health facilities and would serve as an ombud.

With services at public health facilities expected to be a cornerstone of the NHI, the department is having headaches about the shortage of specialists, nurses and doctors. Last year, there were only 150 509 registered health professionals, most of them nurses.

Between 1996 and 2008 the country produced only 1 200 doctors a year – while the disease burden grew because of HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and other factors.

Matsoso said the success of the NHI would be determined not by funding alone, but by bringing competent people into the medical field.

MPs were not convinced. Marius Swart (DA) questioned whether the department had the capacity to implement the NHI successfully. “Chucking more money into a bad system, I’m not sure that’s the solution. We must first get our ducks in a row, (or) it will be (like) a car having a flat tyre and instead of fixing it you deflate the other three tyres.” - Political Bureau

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