Former CEO of the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Mr Sylvester Mensah has said the President’s Health Advisor, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, got it wrong when he said Ghanaians are already enjoying free primary healthcare under the National Health Insurance Scheme.
Dr Nsiah-Asare questioned the basis of former President John Mahama’s promise to institute free primary healthcare for, especially children and the aged, should he win the 7 December 2020 polls, saying the NHIS already covers that.
At the inauguration of his running mate Prof Naana Jane Opoku-Agyemang, the flag bearer of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) said: “Ladies and gentlemen, as a social democratic party, we seek to harness the best qualities in all our people to transform the destiny of our nation”.
“In that direction, and as the fulcrum around which our health policy will evolve, we will before the end of 2021, introduce and begin the implementation of a Free Primary Healthcare Plan”, he announced.
He explained: “This will make the provision of primary healthcare to all Ghanaians, young and elderly, free”.
“Our free healthcare plan will guarantee a healthy people and provide the healthy workforce needed to accelerate our development”, he added.
However, speaking to Kwabena Bobie Ansah on Accra100.5FM’s The Citizen Show on Wednesday, 29 July 2020, Dr Nsiah-Asare asked: “What is free primary healthcare?”
“I realised he [Mr Mahama] said free primary healthcare, especially for children and the elderly. We already have the National Health Insurance Scheme which covers all primary healthcare activities, it covers secondary care and some tertiary care”, he noted.
According to the former Director-General of the Ghana Health Service, “As we speak now, if you’re subscribed to the NHIS, you don’t pay anything for healthcare, so, I don’t know what he [Mr Mahama] is talking about when he says free primary healthcare”.
Dr Nsiah-Asare stressed: “Primary healthcare activities in Ghana are covered by health insurance and for that matter, once you’re holding a health insurance card, you don’t pay anything at the point of care, so, it’s covered and, therefore, it is the same thing as free”.
He listed some of the primary healthcare activities as children going for weighing and immunisation, ante-natal care, child welfare; treatment of malaria, minor accidents, coughing, respiratory tract infections, diabetes and hypertension among others.
“All these are things that are covered by the National Health Insurance Scheme”, he reiterated.
In his view, Mr Mahama probably made the promise because he also wants to offer a free social intervention policy to the electorate since the Akufo-Addo government is implementing a free senior high school policy.
In response, however, Mr Sylvester Mensah said: “Technically, in theory and in practice, a premium-paying health insurance scheme is significantly different from a free healthcare policy or plan”.
“Countries have had to choose between a free healthcare policy and a national or social health insurance scheme/policy. Usually, free primary healthcare has very limited or no preconditions for accessing healthcare”, he explained.
He added: “To say that Ghanaians are already enjoying Free PHC when annual premium payment is required as a condition for accessing healthcare is not only dishonest but a mockery of the theory and practice of health insurance and its underlining principles of cross-subsidisation and solidarity!”
“Come again Doctor!”, Mr Mensah said.
He said under Mr Mahama’s proposed free healthcare plan, “premium payment is eliminated entirely”, adding: “It will be a hybrid system where primary healthcare (PHC) shall be free for all Ghanaians”.
“We believe this will bring great relief to many families across the nation”.
According to him, Mr Mahama “will throw more light on this promise during the NDC’s Policy Dialogue Series that will begin soon”.