Jackson Mthembu. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Jackson Mthembu. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The cabinet has finally approved the National Health Insurance (NHI) bill for tabling in parliament, minister in the presidency for planning, monitoring and evaluation Jackson Mthembu said on Thursday. 

He said in a briefing that in 2018, the cabinet had approved the bill for release for public consultation over a three month period from June 2018 to September 2018. The input following that process has now been incorporated in the latest version of the bill. 

The bill was mired in controversy towards the end of 2018, after a leaked Treasury letter exposed an alleged attempt by Ramaphosa’s adviser, Olive Shisana, to make sweeping changes to the draft bill.

A revised version was rejected by the cabinet in early December and then again reconsidered in January. 

The approved bill will now be subjected to another “rigorous” parliamentary process, Mthembu said. 

The proposed legislation will have to be considered by both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces, and go through public consultation before it can be implemented.

Details of the bill will be unpacked by health minister Zweli Mkhize, Mthembu said. 

Its main aim is to launch an NHI fund that will purchase health services on behalf of patients from public- and private-sector providers, which will be free at the point of care.

“Once the bill has been passed, the existing draft implementation plan will be amended accordingly to give effect to the transitional arrangement of rolling out NHI in phases,” Mthembu said. 

He said the transition period after the bill was passed would allow for the repeal of certain pieces of legislation to enable “alignment and coherence”. 

A key aspect of the bill is the future role it envisages for medical schemes, which currently provide coverage to about 8.9-million people. 

Various stakeholders have warned that the roll-out of NHI will not succeed if the poor management of public healthcare facilities persists, and the shortage of doctors and other health professionals is not addressed.