ESCALATING private healthcare costs have left Government with no option but to gazette fees for health services without foreign currency components.
By Kuda Pembere
In a speech read on his behalf by United Bulawayo Hospitals chief executive Nonhlanhla Ndlovu at the Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) All Stakeholders Conference on Health in Bulawayo on Thursday, Health and Child Care Minister Dr Obadiah Moyo said his office would soon call for a Joint Advisory Council meeting to discuss the issue of people on medical aid being unable to afford private healthcare services.
He said the practice of demanding United States dollars from patients or fixing the charge in United States dollars and then converting this to Zimbabwe dollars was unfair to the patient, given that most people are earning the same in Zimbabwe dollars as they were when an RTGS dollar and a US dollar were at par.
“There is need to urgently find sustainable solutions to alleviate patient suffering and unnecessary loss of lives. It is not right that those who have been responsible enough to insure their health still cannot access healthcare services due to the exchange rate mismatch phenomenon,” the Minister said.
He said he hoped that from the JAC meetings agreed workable solutions would emerge and that he would not have to use his powers under the Medical Services Act to gazette fees in the event of there being no agreed tariff.
“I would prefer not to resort to gazetting fees. However, Government cannot continue watching people suffering and dying. We may soon have to consider the gazetting of fees for service provider groups with no foreign currency component. Regarding providers who require foreign currency for their operations, we need to discuss this issue and map out solutions,” Dr Moyo said.
Earlier AHFoZ chief executive Mrs Shylet Sanyanga had expressed her concern about the effect of high health service charges on people’s health.
“After collecting contributions, funders are under an obligation to ensure that their members have access to healthcare services when the need arises. The situation whereby patients fail to obtain required healthcare services and at times have to resort purely to spiritual help or resign themselves to fate is just not right,” she said.
She said most healthcare service providers were benchmarking their fees in US dollars, then using the prevailing exchange rate to come up with their charges. The difference between these charges and medical aid tariffs was leaving medical aid society members with huge shortfalls that were unaffordable, as salaries were predominantly in local currency and most were not going up.
Mrs Sanyanga urged the government to address issues underlying the exchange rate mismatch that was causing huge shortfalls.