South African President Ramaphosa Signs a Health Law Weeks Before the Election - Latest Global News

South African President Ramaphosa Signs a Health Law Weeks Before the Election

The National Health Insurance Act targets South Africa’s two-tier healthcare system.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed a bill to ensure universal health coverage.

The president hailed the law on Wednesday as a major step toward a fairer society, two weeks before an election expected to be fiercely competitive.

“Health care in this country is fragmented, unsustainable and unacceptable,” he said at the signing ceremony at the Union Buildings, the government headquarters in Pretoria.

“For those who want to keep their privileges: sorry, you are in the wrong boat. Our boat is about equality,” he said.

The National Health Insurance (NHI) Act targets a two-tier healthcare system in which a publicly funded sector that serves 84 percent of the population is overwhelmed and dilapidated, while some people have access to better treatment through private insurance.

The legislation will gradually reduce the role of private insurance, create a new public fund to provide free access to South African citizens, and set the fees and prices that private doctors and healthcare providers can charge for NHI-funded services.

Critics said the plan would strain already-strained public finances, restrict patient choice, reduce the quality of care and drive talented doctors out of the country.

Opponents have vowed to challenge it in court, describing it as a ploy to win votes before the election – which the presidency has denied.

The May 29 election is expected to be one of the most closely contested elections in the country. Ramaphosa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) faces the threat of receiving less than 50 percent of the vote for the first time since he came to power in 1994.

Concerns have also been raised about the affordability of the law and possible tax increases to fund it.

The official opposition Democratic Alliance said on Wednesday that it would legally challenge the new law.

Civil society group AfriForum has also announced plans to challenge the constitutionality of the law, while some business forums have called it unworkable and unaffordable.

The Health Funders Association (HFA), an organization that represents stakeholders involved in financing private healthcare, said it would be a long time before the plan came into effect.

“There will be no immediate impact on health insurance system benefits and contributions or tax changes. “The HFA is well prepared to defend the right of medical scheme members and all South Africans to choose privately funded healthcare when necessary,” said spokesman Craig Comrie.

Others welcomed the law.

The NEHAWU union, part of the country’s COSATU federation, which is in an alliance with the ANC, called on Ramaphosa and the Treasury to throw their full political weight behind the NHI to ensure it is adequately funded.

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