The NHIF building in Upperhill, Nairobi
The NHIF building in Upperhill, Nairobi

Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani has disclosed plans to introduce a new medical cover for homes across the country.

Modeled on ObamaCare, the program introduced by Barrack Obama during his stint in the White House, the scheme would see every household pay a mandatory Ksh6,000 annual fee. The Universal Health Care (UHC) program covers outpatient and inpatient services including maternity, dialysis, cancer treatment and surgery.

It is a move by the government to shift from the current NHIF model where only workers in the formal sector are obligated to join.

“Government focus is on the establishment of a mandatory UHC scheme to be managed by NHIF and regulated by the Ministry of Health and act as the national scheme for all persons resident in Kenya, notwithstanding one’s social status,” Yattani noted in a Budget Policy Statement for the fiscal year 2012/2022.

Yattani further stated that the government was ready to sponsor one million vulnerable households for enrollment to the program as it is rolled out.

National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani
National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yattani

“Focus is also on provision of health insurance cover to initially one million households who are vulnerable and unable to meet even that low-cost premium.

“The identification of these one million households by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, and the counties across the entire country has already begun,” the CS noted.

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A bill expected to be tabled before Parliament is set to offer greater insight on how the upgraded NHIF scheme would run.

The ObamaCare model it borrows from has been a thorny issue in the United States, facing criticism from many leaders even as others praise it for supporting the nation’s most vulnerable to access quality healthcare. Its adjustment, replacement or abolishment was an important campaign issue for all candidates in the 2020 US Presidential Election, won by Obama’s former Vice-President Joe Biden.

ObamaCare is anchored in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). It requires all to have a health cover, and imposes tough tax penalties on those who fail to purchase a medical insurance plan.

It also offers subsidies for vulnerable individuals in the society; by paying insurance firms to keep deductibles low and offering tax credits.

According to World Bank data, a quarter of all medical bills in Kenya are paid out of pocket due to low insurance penetration.

Universal Health Care (UHC) is one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s pillars on his Big 4 development agenda.

The stop-start program has been piloted in a number of counties to varied success, often overshadowed by a public health crisis that has seen doctors and nurses among other medical workers abandon their stations to protest against poor working conditions and lack of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Uhuru’s administration is counting on expanding NHIF to deliver on the UHC promise.

A 2004 bill seeking to have the government pay Ksh11 billion a year to NHIF to provide cover for the poor was shot down as then President Mwai Kibaki opposed it citing its implications on the economy.

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