Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

The DA has relaunched its alternative to the government’s National Health Insurance (NHI) plan that it first flighted in 2016, saying it can achieve universal health coverage in half the time and at a fraction of the cost.

The government has previously said NHI would cost R256bn in 2010 prices by 2025-26, and that it would face a funding shortfall of R27bn-R108bn by this stage. These figures are contained in the white paper on NHI that it published in 2017, and are expected to be updated in a paper being finalised by the Treasury.

“The DA supports quality, universal healthcare for all South Africans, but we don’t need to follow the NHI model — that will ultimately nationalise healthcare, lead to a brain drain and cripple the economy — to bring that about,” said its health spokesperson Siviwe Gwarube at the launch of the party’s Sizani universal healthcare plan on Wednesday.

The plan contains a proposal for allocating a universal subsidy to everyone in SA, which they can use to buy public or private sector care. The value of this credit would be set against a package of health services available in the public sector, and medical scheme benefits would be standardised to match this package.

Medical schemes would be allowed to offer cover for additional services, and public health services would be free at the point of service for everyone, regardless of whether they belong to a medical scheme or not.

Public health facilities currently charge fees that are means tested. While these fees are generally lower than those charged in the private sector, it can still be considerable for families who have a steady income or belong to medical schemes.

“Sizani will not kill the private sector like NHI. Instead it will offer a sustainable private-public partnership that will offer comprehensive coverage for all South Africans,” Gwarube said.

The DA’s plan could be implemented within five to eight years, she said. “This is mainly because we would not be creating a large state-owned entity in the form of pooled public and private funds. We would be able to roll this out within the current budget,” she said.

Gwarube said the health budget across all government departments would be reprioritised to achieve universal health coverage.

Medical tax credits would be brought into the health budget, freeing up an extra R27bn a year that could be spent on improving the health sector.  

“The user will have a choice on where they receive care… and it will enhance competition within the private health industry to guard against the rising cost of healthcare. And the economy will not be left in tatters while pursuing a narrow ideological goal,” she said.