Panic over threats to axe medical tax credits

Civil society organisations say they are willing to challenge the government in court if the NHI becomes law.

Civil society organisations say they are willing to challenge the government in court if the NHI becomes law.

Published Nov 27, 2023

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Durban — Medical Aid will not disappear overnight even though the National Health Insurance bill moved closer to becoming reality this week.

Craig Comrie, the chairperson of the Health Funders Association, says there’s no need to panic and warned that if the bill was legislated the private sector was ready to challenge the matter in court.

“The policy is one thing, but implementation is a totally different part of the game. And so from a policy perspective, we will probably have very highly publicised constitutional fights regarding the bill, and that is in an effort to protect everybody’s rights and make sure that whatever policy we finally sit with is the right policy for South Africans,” he said.

On Tuesday the bill got the green light from the Select Committee on Health and it’s expected to be a shoo-in when the National Council of Provinces votes on the matter next week. From there it will go to President Cyril Ramaphosa to be signed into law.

Comrie says the timing could be linked to the looming 2024 elections.

“Timing is everything for this bill and it has featured on the political agenda since late 2000. So it hasn’t been a short trip, but with the upcoming elections, it’s a significant bargaining point in terms of garnering more votes. So there’s no doubt that elections play a role,” said Comrie.

He said that throughout the parliamentary process there had been a lot of time to engage on the bill and despite the thousands of submissions received, apart from a few spelling corrections, the Select Committee had not made any other changes to the proposed legislation.

“I think it’s a real pity that the consultations have appeared to be a process and not a real opportunity to mould the bill into something that would be far more practical and deliver far better value to every South African,” Comrie said.

He said the exodus of medical professionals and the threats to remove medical tax credits had caused more panic among South Africans.

Comrie, also the CEO of Profmed, said half of their members consisted of doctors and highly trained specialists who made up almost half of the healthcare practitioner market in the country.

“And what we have seen is the number one reason why members leave Profmed specifically is to go overseas and emigrate.”

He said since the Covid-19 pandemic, the global demands have been accentuated and in countries like the US, Canada and the UK they can’t produce more doctors, so they turned to other parts of the world.

“And because our doctors and specialists are so highly trained and desirable, they come to poach our guys in any event,” said Comrie.

Louis Boshoff, campaign officer for AfriForum, said that the NHI was mainly ideologically driven by the ANC. He said the Select Committee chose to ignore the various oral submissions which highlighted inconsistencies in the bill and overall unhappiness with the quality of the bill.

“The ANC is trying to buy votes with the promise of free health care for all people but it’s a promise that can’t be kept because the NHI system is not possible to make health care free. Health care will still cost something and need to be funded by taxpayer money or some other source.”

David Ansara, CEO of the Free Market Foundation, said while the bill would likely be adopted, the scheme itself would never become a reality, given the cost and fatal lack of competence and capacity in the government.

He said the NHI would legally make the competitive medical schemes industry redundant and replace it with a single, centralised, state monopoly much like Eskom and Transnet.

The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse said the NHI Bill must be challenged collectively by business and civil society on the grounds that it has not been properly researched.

The organisation’s CEO Wayne Duvenage said the government had not provided clarity on how the entire process would be funded and managed.

The DA’s Shadow Minister of Health, Michele Clarke, said that the government’s insistence on implementing the NHI would spell disaster for the public and private health sectors.

Independent on Saturday

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South AfricaNHI