MPs adopt controversial NHI Bill

MPs adopt controversial NHI Bill

South African lawmakers on Tuesday voted in favour of a controversial new law which aims to provide free universal health care, but which critics fear may not be sustainable.


A fund to be established under the law, which still has to be passed by the upper house of parliament, before being signed into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa, will provide health care for all at rates to be determined by government.

After a heated debate the bill was adopted by 205 members of parliament and rejected by 125.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla described the passing of the bill which has been 12 years in the making as a "historic milestone" and "one of the most revolutionary pieces of legislation" since the end of apartheid.

The National Health Insurance (NHI) will be "an equitable, accessible, affordable, and strengthened healthcare system.

"As inequality has been growing in our country even cutting across race, access to quality health services has been a casualty with those who have private medical insurance consuming 51% of the national spending while constituting only 16% of the population, while 84% depend on 49% resources from the fiscus and services provided," by public hospitals, he said.


If signed off, the new law will "ensure all the people of South Africa have access to the same clinic or hospital (either public or private), closer to where they live or work without paying -– the government will pay," said the minister after the adoption of the bill.

Everyone will contribute to the fund through taxes and special contributions.

But critics say the bill risks collapsing the health system.

Shadow health minister Michele Clarke from the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA)  rejected the bill as a ploy by the ruling ANC to canvas for votes ahead of next year's crunch election.

"NHI will inevitably destroy all health care in South Africa," said Clarke in parliament.

Lawmaker Philip van Staden of the Freedom Front Plus, a small rightwing and predominantly white Afrikaner party, warned that the country's electricity crisis and water supply problems "under ANC rule must serve as a clear and timely warning of what will happen to our healthcare services".

Busi Mavuso, CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, an independent forum representing some of the country's largest business enterprises, feared the bill "would leave all South Africans worse off, in a system in which state provision becomes impossible and private health provision is effectively closed down".

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