Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The fiercely contested National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill will be tabled before the cabinet next week, presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko confirmed on Tuesday.

The bill is the first piece of enabling legislation for sweeping health sector reforms being planned by the government in order to realise its ambitions of providing universal health coverage.

The bill was released for public comment on June 21, and then revised by a small team led by presidential adviser Olive Shisana, after submissions closed on September 21.

Their work on the bill ran into strong opposition from senior Treasury officials, who in early November raised concerns about a host of measures in the bill, ranging from new proposals that sharply diminished the role of medical schemes, to a lack of adequate consultation on its proposed changes, to the role of provincial health departments.

The extent to which these issues have been resolved is unclear, as neither the Treasury, the presidency nor the department of health have provided any indication of the content of the revised bill, which was presented to a cabinet committee on Tuesday morning.

In an unusual turn of events, Shisana’s team excluded health director-general Precious Matsoso, who broke her silence last week and told Business Day she had not had sight of the bill since it was released for public comment.

Civil society organisations called on the cabinet to send the NHI Bill back to the department of health and require a more thorough consultation process.

“This version, prepared so soon after the submission deadline, cannot have taken into account the likely hundreds of submissions made by interested parties across the country,” said a joint statement by the Treatment Action Campaign, Section 27, the Rural Health Advocacy Project, the People’s Health Movement, and Lawyers for Human Rights.

SA’s biggest trade union federation, Cosatu, said their call should be rejected as it was a “blatant effort to slow down the implementation of the NHI policy for the poor and working class that are in desperate need of quality health services”.