Free healthcare – Can SA get it right? #FreedomMonth
11 April 2018 HEALTH & WELLNESS
By: Natasha Archary
In June last year cabinet issued a statement that the country was a step closer to finalising plans for access to free health care. Almost a year later and no further updates on the matter have been tabled. While some may argue that there is an array of public hospitals and clinics around the country within access, the conditions of these facilities need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The socio-economic inequality that plagues the country means that private health care is reserved for those who can afford it. The rest? Yup, you guessed it, they have to spend hours waiting in never ending queues at unhygenic health facilities. Just another number in the system.
It’s a huge gap, one that the country is no closer to bridging unfortunately. South Africa boasts the highest standards of healthcare in Africa. This is however, not anything to go by. With a majority of African countries living below their means, this comparison is a stark reality of how far we are from free healthcare, free decent healthcare.
With 80% of the country accessing public healthcare, it means our hospitals and clinics are understaffed, operating on dated equipment, with facilities either run-down or in poor conditions. The skills and funding gap in our healthcare system places a heavy burden on public healthcare. So much so, that government urged those who can afford private medical schemes to sign up for one.
What does the future hold?
The National Health Insurance Plan’s goal will only be initiated in 2026. The goal is to deliver a public healthcare system that affords South Africans first-class public healthcare facilities and treatment. The projected cost for this goal is expected to reach up to two hundred and fifty six billion rands. Funding for this project will naturally come from taxpayers paying exorbitantly higher amounts of tax and government-linked medical-insurance plans, which will be included into the NHI fund.
What’s the catch?
If everyone is forced to join the NHI, many private insurance companies will then be pushed to reduce their cover costs. It will become a dog eat dog world and the end goal will be to see which sector can retain the majority of the money market. The 20% of the population who can afford private health care, spend more money than our own government spends on healthcare. This is what has allowed private hospitals to flourish.
One opposition party is vehemently against the push for a public healthcare system that will rival the private counterpart. The idea that we should all be treated equally is not a concept many care to stomach.
The EFF on the other hand is strongly for an improvement in the public health system. Consistent in their approach to force a change, the party has held regular marches and handed over memorandums last month, demanding better public healthcare. Party leader, Julius Malema called for hospital staff to treat patients with dignity no matter how bad their working conditions.
What needs to happen?
Easy increase taxes. Right? No. Even with tax increases, the economy isn’t growing fast enough to cover the NHI’s costs. What happens to the private medical insurers who provide thousands of jobs? The same for private pharmacies? It may sound like every South African’s dream but in hindsight it could make for dire times ahead.
Is our country ready to chase a goal of this magnitude? Probably not. With our national airline, broadcaster and government offices having been rocked by financial discrepancies, it is an unrealistic goal indeed. In order for this goal to be brought to fruition, we will need to weed out corruption, create new legislative amendments and dig our economy out of the grave we buried it in.
The cost of private healthcare is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that your family and loved ones have the best option available to them. For the rest of the country however, it’s long queues, cheap medication, filthy environments and doctors who honestly just treat the next number on their list. They’re not a priority, how can they be when we show them that this is all they’re worth!