A number of doctors in the Sekondi-Takoradi metropolis are to be probed for allegations of extortion under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS).
The action, to be undertaken by the Western Regional Directorate of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), follows accusations by managers of the scheme and NHIS card holders that the doctors illegally collected between ¢800,000 and ¢2 million per person before treating patients who were covered by the scheme.
The acting Regional Director of Health Services, Dr Linda Vanotoo, said such a practice would pose a serious threat to the survival of the scheme in the region and gave the assurance that the allegation would not be taken lightly.
The victims are said to be mostly the rural poor who were duly registered under the NHIS poor who were duly registered under the NHIS but had little knowledge about the scheme.
Daily Graphic investigations have revealed that those in the farming and fishing communities are no longer interested in the renewal of their insurance because it has rather brought them hardships as a result of the behaviour of some self-seeking doctors at the health facilities.
The Efia-Nkwanta Regional Hospital in Sekondi and the Essikado Hospital have been cited as being the most notorious for the practice.
Farmers in Abuesi, Shama, Komfueku and a host of other towns and villages in the Western Region who spoke to the Daily Graphic expressed regret at having wasted their time and money registering under the NHIS.
The Daily Graphic travelled to various communities and managed to locate some of the victims of the alleged extortion, who included a 70-year-old man and a physically-challenged young woman covered by the scheme, who narrated their experiences with anger, regret and pain.
Seventy-year-old Opanyin Kojo Arthur said he reported at the Essikado Hospital for a hernia operation in November last year and after the necessary medical tests, a doctor demanded ¢1 million before he would commence treatment.
Hernia operation is covered by the scheme.
“I was taken through the other processes and my health insurance card covered the expenses at that level. But when I was referred to the doctor, he asked me to pay ¢1 million before he starts,” the sad-looking old man said, almost in tears.
Opanyin Arthur said he managed to secure ¢400,000 but the doctor refused to treat him until he could raise the whole amount.
According to Opanyin Arthur, because of that experience he had decided not to renew his insurance.
At Abuesi, another card bearer, a 35-year-old fisherman, Mr Seth Konduah, said he was shocked when, after showing his health insurance card to the same doctor, he was asked to bring ¢800,000 before he could commence treatment on him.
“Because I did not have the money on me he asked me to go home and look for the money,” he said.
“It took me some days to raise the money and he did not even give me a receipt for it. I have just come to realise that I should not have paid because of the NHIS card. Now I want my money back,” he said.
Mr Konduah said after the operation, he had to sell some of his belongings to enable him to pay for the drugs prescribed for him.
Another card holder, Mr Solomon Baah, said in the first week of November last year, he was asked to pay ¢1 million before the commencement of his hernia operation at the same hospital.
At Efia-Nkwanta, an employee of the Benso Oil Palm Plantation Limited (BOPP) in Takoradi who did not want to be named alleged that another doctor collected ¢2 million from him on December 19, 2006 to perform a fibroid operation on his wife although he was a card holder.
Ms Monica Adu, who is physically-challenged, also alleged that her only hope for her fibroid operation was the health insurance but she had no co-operation from the health authorities when she reported at the health facility in April 2006.
She then contacted the scheme manager at Shama, who has now referred her to a private health facility at Daboase.
When contacted to verify the complaints by the victims, the Scheme Manager at Shama, Mr F. K. Blankson, confirmed the claims.
He said he had received those complaints from clients and added that it was wrong for doctors to collect money from patients at health facilities covered by the scheme.
According to him, it was wrong to ask an insured patient to pay at the point of service, saying, “Doctors only write requisitions for whatever items they will need to carry out surgery.”
He said he had made an arrangement for Opanyin Arthur and Ms Adu to undergo their surgery at the Ahmadiyya Hospital at Daboase, a private health facility.
The Administrator of the Efia-Nkwanta Hospital, Mr Micah, said he heard about the complaints when he met with the scheme managers, adding that his outfit was going to investigate.
The Regional Co-ordinator of the NHIS said he was shocked when he also heard about the issue when he met with the Parliamentary Select Committee on Health at the Regional Administration.
He deplored it, saying it was a serious threat to the national campaign to bring more people under the scheme.
Story By Moses Dotsey