The passing of the National Health Insurance Scheme Bill, 2019, by Parliament provides a glimmer of hope in enhancing access to health services. As can be demonstrated by the Rwandan experience, health insurance is instrumental in increasing access to health.
By Peter Eceru
Providing affordable healthcare to the population of low- and middle-income countries is a persistent development issue.
In 2016, the government of Uganda developed a health financing strategy to facilitate the attainment of sustainable development goal three (SDG3) of ensuring Universal Health Coverage.
This can be achieved by making the required resources for delivery of essential health services for Ugandans available, in an efficient and equitable manner. Revenue collection and risk pooling mechanisms such as insurance are one way of doing this.
The dream is that no one should face the risk of impoverishment when accessing healthcare, nor should anyone forgo medical services because of the financial cost of accessing health services.
Currently, the principal mechanism for funding health services in Uganda is through government revenue tax financing.
Out of pocket payments and contributions by health development partners constitute a substantial amount of health financing. Due to the poor quality of health service delivery, many households are compelled to seek services from private medical facilities, which are very expensive.
The cost of access to health services in private places is a huge burden on most families in Uganda, leading to financial hardships for many patients and their caretakers, and often to long-term indebtedness.
It is currently estimated that the total annual health expenditure is 7.5 trillion. Of this, 15 per cent is from government funding, with 42 per cent from donors and 41 per cent from individuals (out of pocket).
These statistics should be worrying because the government has abandoned its responsibility of providing healthcare in this country to donors and families.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that out of pocket expenditure on health should not exceed 20 per cent of a country’s total health expenditure, otherwise citizens will stand the risk of impoverishment in case a family member falls ill.
In terms of per capita health expenditure on health, Uganda stands at $53, which is less than the standard $84 dollars recommended by the WHO. In comparison with other East African states, this is the lowest.
It is evident that public financing available for the health sector remains the single most important constraint to Universal Health Coverage and overall enjoyment of the right to health. Over the last five years, the budget for the health sector has dwindled from 8.9 per cent of the national budget in 2016/2017 to the projected 6.2 per cent in 2021/22 financial year.
In 2019/2020, the needs analysis by the National Medical Stores (NMS) showed that there was a medicines funding gap of 6 per cent in Health Centre IIs, 56 per cent in Health Centre IVs, and 32 per cent in general hospitals. This means that Health Centre IIs are running with only 39 per cent of the drugs they need while Health Centre IVs are operating with only 44 per cent of the drugs they need.
The passing of the National Health Insurance Scheme Bill, 2019, by Parliament provides a glimmer of hope in enhancing access to health services. As can be demonstrated by the Rwandan experience, health insurance is instrumental in increasing access to health. By 2015/16, the health insurance cover in Rwanda had a coverage of 86.1 per cent compared to Uganda’s 2 per cent.
The Bill as passed by Parliament may not be perfect, but provides the best opportunity for beginning conversations on increasing funding to the health sector and catering for the poor and vulnerable groups.
By contributing to the health scheme, their dependants will benefit from the insurance and so will the poor who are incapable of contributing. These shall be entitled to a defined package of healthcare benefits from government contribution based on Uganda National Minimum Health Care package.
The Health Insurance Scheme will be an addition to the government contribution to the health sector. Government will continue to invest in health promotion and education; disease surveillance and response; immunisation and any other specialised services outside the National Health Insurance Scheme benefits package and health systems investment.
Government will also continue to finance major health sector infrastructural development, specialised medicines, technology and human resources.
Peter Eceru is a Programme Specialist, Health and Human Rights Advocacy at Center for Health, Human Rights and Development (CEHURD)
A version of this article was published in the Daily Monitor Newspaper on Friday 30th 2021.