Signing NHI into law was reckless, the damage will be immeasurable

President Cyril Ramaphosa signing the National Health Insurance Bill into law at the Union Buildings. Picture: Jacques Naude / Independent Newspapers

President Cyril Ramaphosa signing the National Health Insurance Bill into law at the Union Buildings. Picture: Jacques Naude / Independent Newspapers

Published May 23, 2024


Our health system, or what is left of it, has received a mortal blow. The signing of the NHI into law will take the entire health system into the gutter.

I’m receiving dozens of calls from medical practitioners who want to embark upon the retrenchment programme of their staff.

The health practitioners are making plans to close their practices and if they are young enough, qualify themselves abroad. Others who are beyond retirement age or reaching retirement have decided to commence the slow closure.

Above this, I’ve had six of my small company clients telling me that they want to cancel their medical aid as of June 1, to save money for the company and the employee.

A company employing 25 people has advised its staff that it intends to stop medical aid and people will be receiving more money in their account at the end of June due to this fortuitous saving. I suspect that the scenario is playing itself out between employers and employees across the country.

Our grossly negligent government has chosen not to embark upon an education programme, explaining to employers and their staff that nothing changes at this stage and that any effective commencement of the NHI would probably take a decade if the courts don’t shoot it down within the next year or so. My limited understanding of constitutional law leads me to believe that the law itself is illegal and won’t pass muster.

Our health system is in tatters and even the workers who should be covered by the Compensation Fund are struggling to access private medical aid because of the government’s incompetence.

The Department of Employment and Labour, through its Compensation Fund entity, has created a nightmare. If this is anything to go by, one can well imagine what would happen if national health insurance were practically implemented in South Africa.

Health practitioners across the board have sought employment elsewhere and have either emigrated or taken up temporary jobs in other jurisdictions.

One need only look at the nursing profession. It is denuded by nurses who are working under better conditions and receiving better pay in countries across the world.

I am aware that some political parties and other civil organisations have threatened to go to court immediately. The court cases could take months, if not years. We have an immediate problem in South Africa in that people believe the NHI is imminent and ready to be introduced.

The signing of the legislation at this stage has to be because we are on the cusp of an election. This is reckless and the damage will be immeasurable. It is incumbent upon a dying administration governed by the ANC to at least explain to the workforce of South Africa that they should not change their status of being covered by medical aid and the like.

It is also important for the message to go out to the employers, that they mustn’t do anything rash and must immediately reverse any plans that they might have about cancelling medical aid. It is also incumbent upon the various medical aid schemes to speak up now and explain the situation.

We can ill afford to lose the skills of all our medical practitioners across the board. It’s incumbent upon the various provinces to explain, through the provincial departments of health, that the signing of the NHI changes nothing at present.

The unfortunate speech made by the Gauteng premier is incredibly destructive in that the premier promised the people that they would have access to private medical health come the June 1, 2024.

The premier should be disciplined for making the inflammatory speech and should be made to apologise to the people of South Africa.

The message must go out there that even if partially implemented, the NHI will not give everyone access to private health care.

Finally, there are rumours that the cost of the Unemployment Insurance Fund contributions will rocket to fund the NHI. This has neither been debated nor is it imminent.

* Michael Bagraim is a veteran labour lawyer, and a Democratic Alliance MP.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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