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NHI Bill delayed

Parliament’s Health Committee has run out of time to process the controversial National Health Insurance Bill in the National Assembly before the ANC’s elective conference after a key meeting with the Health Department was delayed.

The NHI Bill is the government’s first piece of legislation in realising its plan for universal health coverage, which promises to provide citizens with healthcare services that are free at the point of delivery.

Two weeks ago, the committee’s chairperson, Kenneth Jacobs, said MPs aimed to have the Bill adopted by the National Assembly before Parliament rises on 6 December, a little over a week before the ANC conference begins on 16 December.

At that stage, a meeting had been scheduled for input from the Health Department on the issues raised during public submissions and MPs’ detailed deliberations on the ill. That was to have been followed two days later by a meeting with the state law adviser and Parliament’s legal team.

However, the meeting with the Health Department was postponed for a week, leaving the committee without enough time to complete its work on the Bill. Its last meeting for the year is tomorrow, when it plans to adopt a report on its oversight visit to the Eastern Cape.

Only after the committee has considered the Health Department’s suggested changes to the Bill, along with legal input, can it compile its “A-list” of proposed changes. Parliament will then draft a revised version of the NHI Bill, known as the “B version”, incorporating the amendments approved by the committee. It will then be submitted to the National Assembly for a second reading debate and a vote.

Parliament will reconvene after the State of the Nation address in February, the committee should complete its work on the Bill in “a month or less”, he said.

The department has maintained its stance on the role of medical schemes, saying they should be limited to providing cover for “complementary” services not provided by NHI.

It has conceded, however, that the governance structure for the NHI Fund, which will purchase services on behalf of the population, vests too much power in the health minister.

It has suggested that instead of the minister having sole authority to appoint the NHI Fund board, the full procedure of selecting and appointing board members be approved by cabinet. The minister would be able to dissolve the board only after an inquiry and approval by Cabinet.

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