Sibongiseni Dhlomo. Picture: SOWETAN
Sibongiseni Dhlomo. Picture: SOWETAN

Parliament’s portfolio committee on health has dismissed rumours that the public consultation process on the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill has been suspended pending the outcome of advice from the state attorney, and says the process is firmly on track.

The bill is the government’s first piece of enabling legislation for NHI, which aims to provide universal health coverage so patients are guaranteed care that is free at the point of delivery.

“Reports on the suspension of the NHI process are fake news”, the committee’s chair, Sibongiseni Dhlomo, said on Tuesday.

He said a letter written by Werksmans Attorneys director Neil Kirby was being circulated in the public domain, indicating the process had been suspended pending advice from the state law adviser on the constitutionality of the bill.

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Earlier in August, the DA asked parliament to seek legal opinion on the constitutionality of the bill, because it proposes far-reaching changes to the role of provincial health departments. The constitution gives national and provincial government concurrent, or shared powers for health.

Business Day has seen a copy of the letter, which says “public participation in respect of the NHI bill has been suspended pending advice from the state legal adviser in respect of the constitutionality of the bill with reference to the provincial competencies set out in schedule 4 of the constitution”.

“We want to distance ourselves from those utterances and want to reassure the public that the NHI Bill has been tabled in the National Assembly. The speaker has presented and referred it to the committee,” Dhlomo said.

Kirby said he was not certain how the information was leaked.

“The view provided was in the context of legal advice on the basis that the process should be suspended pending clarity on the constitutionality of the bill” he said.

Dhlomo told Business Day that he had obtained advice from the state law adviser, which he would share with the health committee at a meeting on Thursday.

Health minister Zweli Mhkize is expected to make a presentation to the committee at the meeting, after which the public consultation process will begin, Dhlomo said.

The bill will be processed by both houses of parliament — the national assembly and then the national council of provinces — which are each expected to run their own public consultations processes.

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