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23.10.2007 Health

Free healthcare for all coming

By The Statesman

The Statesman says it has learnt that government is working on modalities to make healthcare accessible and most importantly, free for all, regardless of how much ones contributes to its sustenance.

In this regard, the coverage of the National Health Insurance Scheme is to be broadened to cover every Ghanaian.

While various sources of funding the scheme are being considered, the paper says its sources say the argument seems to be tilting in favour of an increase in the National Health Insurance Levy component of the VAT rate, from the current 2.5% to 5%. The changes are expected to take place next year.

Launched on March 18, 2004 by President Kufuor, the NHIS is designed to offer affordable medical care, especially to the poor and vulnerable. It is a risk pooling arrangement by which the cost of healthcare to any single individual in the society, whether rich or poor, becomes a collective responsibility of all the people in the society. Adults are to pay a yearly minimum subscription of ¢72,000, while government will cater for health treatment of the aged, the poor as well as children of parents who both subscribe to the scheme.

"Ghana is a poor country straddled with many problems, all demanding priority attention. The scheme is the solution for the health care sector and the only viable alternative to the outdated and rigid system of cash and carry," President Kufuor said at the official launch of the scheme. The National Health Insurance Law was passed in 2003.

The Scheme was initially funded with ¢40.6 billion (almost $ 5 million) from the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Index at the district level, while a similar amount was set aside for health workers who agree to work in deprived areas in the country.

According to the paper, government is currently financing the scheme by borrowing 2.5 percent out of the 17.5 percent SSNIT contribution of workers in the formal sector, while a new 2.5 percent National Health Insurance Levy is pumped into a fund to cater for those who cannot afford to make contributions.

Before its introduction, the country had operated a cost-recovery health delivery system known infa¬mously as the 'cash-and-carry' system since 1985, whereby patients are required to pay up-front for health services at government clinics and hospitals. This however, pushed health care far beyond the reach of the ordinary Ghanaian.

One of the NPP's most radical social reforms, the Scheme has had its ups and downs over the last two years, with problems ranging from a lack of cards for registered members to delays in reimbursement and a lack of drugs. But its managers have soldiered on, registering, at the last count, over 10 million Ghanaians and achieving about 47% national coverage, according to Health Minister Courage Quashigah. Initially dismissed as a PR gimmick by the opposition, it is now generally accepted as another success story of the Kufuor administration.

In a further attempt to streamline its operations, government last week swore into office members of a reconstituted 16-member Council, chaired by Nana Agyei Duku.