Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The Senate has called on the federal government to evolve a mandatory health insurance scheme for all Nigerians.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, made the call during a one-day public hearing for consideration of two health insurance related bills.
Noting that the current National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) only provided for optional health insurance in the country, the senator emphasised that countries that have made substantial progress towards universal health coverage did so because they made health insurance mandatory.
He, however, submitted that making health insurance compulsory without sufficient arrangements for subsidisation would not work.
According to him, there was the need to make efforts to subsidise the payments by Nigerians who cannot afford the insurance premium.
“The poverty rate in Nigeria is about 35 per cent of the population which translates to well over 60 million people. Many Nigerians are living below poverty line. This group of people cannot afford insurance premium, yet we cannot allow them to suffer lack of health care services,” Oloriegbe explained, stating that the proposed bill consists of nine parts and 79 clauses.
Highlights of the bills, according to him, include the establishment of the National Health Insurance Commission, governing council and its functions.
The lawmaker said the new bills would provide for the types of health insurance schemes, registration and licences of various schemes and provision for Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHPF), offences, penalties and legal proceedings among others.
On National Mental Health Bill 2019, he said the bill was auspicious and appropriate for addressing the glowing number of suicide deaths in Nigeria.
According to him, it was unarguable that most of the suicides occur due to substance abuse, mental imbalance and none availability of services to control the substance abuse.
The senator said the bill, made up of 12 parts and 74 sections, seeks to provide direction for coherent, natural and unified response to challenges relating to the delivery of mental health and substance abuse in Nigeria.
Stakeholders in the health sector, who made submissions at the hearing via their memoranda, commended the Senate on its efforts to review the NHIS act to provide universal health coverage for all Nigerians. The two bills include bill for an act to repeal the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Act 2004, and to enact the National Health Insurance Commission Bill 2019.
The second bill is a Bill for an Act to provide for the Enhancement and Regulation of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Protect Persons with Mental Health Needs.
The bill also seeks for Establishment of National Commission for Mental and Substance Abuse Services for effective management of mental health in Nigeria and other related matters 2019.