/ 15 July 2008

DA calls for national health-insurance plan to be halted

The opposition Democratic Alliance believes that the Cabinet should not consider the health minister’s proposed policy for national health insurance until she has a better plan to get the basics of healthcare delivery in public hospitals and clinics right.

Health spokesperson Mike Waters said on Tuesday that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang’s ambitious plans to reorganise the structure and financing of the entire public and private healthcare system have been on the agenda for more than a decade.

”These plans will involve, in the long term, a fundamental restructuring of the way healthcare is financed, including a state-sponsored medical scheme and the replacement of state funding of the public health system by mandatory NHI [national health insurance] contributions from all employed South Africans,” he said.

But he insisted that these plans are simply a way of distracting attention from the real problem in healthcare, which is the inability of the Health Department to ensure that the country’s hospitals are able to deliver a quality service.

”Until all South Africans are able to rely on receiving quality care at any public hospital in the country, any tinkering with the structure of the system will only the delay the decisive action that we need on the ground,” Waters said.

He also said that it is not a shortage of cash that is causing trouble in the health service.

”Year after year, the national department is rapped over the knuckles by the Auditor General for not using its powers to ensure that provinces spend their budgetary allocations for healthcare appropriately,” Waters said. ”There is evidence in most provinces of outrageous wastage and mismanagement while hospitals disintegrate.

”Undoubtedly the biggest problem in healthcare is the human resources brain drain, which leaves all hospitals struggling desperately to meet the needs of patients. Yet, although there are a number of steps that could be taken, the minister of health has done nothing constructive to address this problem.” — I-Net Bridge