South African government urged to clarify universal healthcare bill

An elderly patient waits at a ward at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg, during a protest on May 31, 2018. - One of South Africa's largest hospitals was barricaded and fires started by workers protesting pay and conditions on Thursday, creating chaos for patients and reportedly forcing the cancellation of operations. More than 100 support staff downed tools over the failure of Johannesburg's Charlotte Maxeke hospital, also known as Joburg General, to pay performance bonuses and overtime. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP) (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE PHOTO: An elderly patient waits at a ward at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg. (Photo credit MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

The South African opposition on Tuesday urged the government to clarify its National Healthcare Insurance (NHI) bill which envisages universal healthcare for all South Africans.

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) said it has received over 70,000 objections to the NHI bill from ordinary South Africans and that the government hasn’t answered some crucial questions about the controversial bill.

Last month, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize submitted to Parliament the NHI bill which aims to achieve universal access to quality healthcare services in South Africa.

However, critics said the financing model of this bill will lead to a new tax imposed on ordinary citizens.

Several political parties and numerous bodies also voiced skepticism about the bill, calling it unrealistic and too expensive, and said the bill would potentially damage the healthcare sector, particularly when the country is facing a financial crisis.

Parliament is seeking public opinion before adopting the bill, and the public are expected to submit comments before October 1.

Meanwhile, the DA requested six more weeks for the public to make their voices heard.

“The people of South Africa are expected to support or reject the bill, yet they haven’t been given the requisite explanation of what healthcare will look like should there be an NHI legislation implemented,” DA Shadow Minister of Health Siviwe Gwarube said.

Gwarube urged the government to clarify some crucial issues, including the coverage of private medical schemes, the coverage of the care package provided by the state, the funding model and other funding sources, among others.

Also on Tuesday, Parliament said the Department of Health has produced a pamphlet that explains the NHI bill in 11 official languages used in the country.

Approximately 1 million copies have been distributed to all provinces, and this move may create an enabling environment for the upcoming public hearings on the bill, said Sibongiseni Dhlomo, chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health.