SA‘s Department of Health has done an apparent U-turn on its plan to scrap medical aid schemes, saying they should work with the state when it rolls out National Health Insurance instead, reports Business Day. However, Health Minister Dr Aaaron Motsoaledi denies any ‘sell out’.
The NHI policy documents wanted all 80 or so medical aid schemes merged into one state-run fund. About eight million South Africans – or 17% of the population – have medical aid cover and use private hospitals and doctors.
Department director-general Precious Matsoso met leaders of the medical aid plan sector and asked that they work together to reform healthcare in South Africa.
“This is big news,” said Graham Anderson, principal officer of Profmed.
In a further Business Day report, Motsoaledi has moved to defend his position on NHI after Cosatu accused him of betraying voters by offering medical schemes a lifeline.
Cosatu accused the Department of Health of prioritising the needs of what it called ‘private health profiteers’ over those of poor people. “The Department of Health is betraying NHI by handing over the NHI to private hands, and is also betraying the voters who were promised a single-payer NHI in the 2014 (ANC) election manifesto,” it said.
Motsoaledi has now assured organised labour that his position was aligned to theirs. ‘I hear time and time again that I am in the business of watering down NHI and diluting it through a multi-payer system … and handing it over to private hands. There is nothing in our policy documents that says any of these things. I will never sell (out) NHI,’ he said. Motsoaledi attacked medical schemes, saying they were designed for a privileged minority at the expense of society.
In the meeting with medical aids, Matsoso made different suggestions on how the government may have to work with the private sector, such as subsidising medical aid options for people who couldn’t afford them.
Finer details of a partnership, however, were not discussed.
This latest policy is a considerable climbdown from the government’s previous stance, which envisaged the end of medical aid schemes in South Africa.
The NHI white paper released in 2015 said it was government policy that medical aid schemes would not exist in their “current form” when NHI was rolled out because they would all be collapsed into a single state-run medical aid plan.
The government suggested most funds would close as they would only offer complementary cover for conditions not treated in state hospitals.
Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has frequently been critical of private healthcare, calling its costs “excessive”. Other health leaders in the government have also been extremely critical of the existence of the private medical sector.
Earlier this year Kgosi Letlape, head of the Health Professions Council of SA, said medical aids were a “crime against humanity”. Former head of the medical aid regulator the late Humphrey Zokufa said last year he didn’t want medical aid plans to exist in their current form and as regulator he would ensure they were merged into a single fund.The Times