By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The management of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) has said that it is working to effect an amendment to the Act setting up the fund to transform it to a health insurance commission.
According to NHIS, the amendment bill before the National Assembly which has passed the second reading is seeking to make health insurance mandatory and to get all in the formal and informal sectors at the national, state and local council level to be part of it.
Speaking to journalists during a retreat organised by the NHIS, state health insurance scheme and other key stakeholders in Nasarawa state, the Executive Secretary of NHIS, Prof. Mohammed Sambo said that unless the law setting up the agency is amended to strengthen and expand its scope it cannot lead to the achievement the much desired universal health coverage.
The move by the NHIS came just as one of the key stakeholders, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) said that there are indications that the operations of the health insurance scheme is becoming more transparent and accountable.
NLC president, Comrade Ayuba Wabba who was at the retreat alongside his counterpart from the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said that being transparent is one of the best ways to engender confidence and trust of the public that would in turn increase the subscriber base.
Speaking on the amendment of the NHIS Act, Mohammed said that the present law permits NHIS to register federal civil servants and a few private sector individuals who voluntarily subscribe to the scheme.
Sambo who gave number of workers presently covered by the health insurance scheme as 3.5 million said the situation has not only tied the hands of the NHIS to a few segment of the Nigerian populace but has limited its impact as well.
He said: “Under the mandatory insurance scheme everybody will join and then you have the money coming from the public sector, from the private sector and you have contributions coming from persons that are rich. With that kind of funding, you can now begin the journey towards achieving universal health coverage.
“So the law is to be amended to reflect that which will even convert the NHIS to a commission and when that commission is established and its mandate based on compulsory health insurance then everybody will then subscribe”.
Sambo also said that with the expansion of the scheme, it would attract a large pool of fund, which will in turn lead to cross-subsidization.
“The rich will subsidise the poor, and there is a tendency you will have a surplus fund with which you will use to give and create subsidy for those who cannot pay,” he said.
Mohammed said retreat is to bring all the actors under the health insurance scheme to come together to create a platform that will enable us move towards Universal Health Coverage (UHC). Information about health insurance scheme is very poor.
He said that the workshop tried to bring on board all the stakeholders, “the national and state health insurance scheme under the platform that we have created, and will be called ‘health insurance under one roof’.
The Executive Secretary noted that under the new plan, there will be a very good central coordinating system whereby it will possible to get aggregate of all the numbers of enrollees that have joined the NHIS in Nigeria.
Also speaking on the effort to forge a common front, the Executive Secretary of the Osun Health Insurance Agency and the Chairman of Forum of Chief Executives Officers of State Insurance oordinator of the states health insurance schemes, Mr. Niyi Odunyi said that having a health insurance under one roof became necessary due to the various fragmentation, lack of coordination and operational disunity in the health insurance industry.
He said that NHIS, state health insurance, private health care providers and others were all doing different things and there is no coordination, adding that, there is no mechanism to provide accurate data of the number of people covered by health insurance in the country because there is no interoperability.
“Want to come up with a framework that will bring eveerybody under one roof in terms of coordination of Health insurance activities in the country, exchange of data, having seamless ICT structure at both national and state insurance agencies,” he said.