S. African Parliament seeks legal advice on constitutionality of universal healthcare bill

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South Africa’s Parliament said on Thursday it was seeking urgent legal advice from Office of the State Attorney on the constitutionality of the controversial National Healthcare Insurance (NHI) bill.

Before starting deliberating the bill, it will be important to address concerns raised by various people, including those who think they will find space to challenge the constitutionality of the bill, said Sibongiseni Dhlomo, chairperson of Parliament’s Portforlio Committee on Health.

The committee will request a meeting with Office of the State Attorney so that all members of the committee can be informed on the legal concerns that have been widely reported in the media, said Dhlomo.

“This should be done speedily, so that as we start with the NHI bill we can set aside concerns and know the contribution of legal experts in the matter,” he said.

The bill, submitted to Parliament by Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize last week, envisages a package of comprehensive health services for free at private and public health facilities as part of the government’s bid to provide more equitable access to quality healthcare.

The landmark bill is expected to benefit all South African citizens, permanent residents, refugees, inmates, designated foreign nationals and all children.

Critics say the financing model of this bill will mean the imposition of a new tax on ordinary South Africans who have already been squeezed dry by the government and cannot be subjected to yet another tax.

Several political parties and numerous bodies, including the South African Private Practitioners’ Forum, voiced scepticism about the bill, calling it unrealistic, too expensive, and would potentially damage the healthcare sector, particularly when the country is facing a financial crisis.

On Tuesday, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) challenged the constitutionality of the bill which it said would cripple the economy and health services in the country.

The party insists that the bill seeks to fundamentally alter healthcare policy in South Africa by creating a state-owned entity to consolidate all funds within the public and private health system.

This would result in billions of rand being placed in the hands of the politically connected, giving the health minister unvetted powers and in control of the entire health system, the DA argues.

Moreover, the bill completely centralizes the provision of healthcare by placing the management of all central hospitals under the national health department, which would ultimately lead to the nationalization of healthcare and is a clear erosion of provincial powers, according to the party.

“This bill removes the autonomy of South Africans to choose their own healthcare. It mandates the national department of health as the sole provider of healthcare in the country while all private healthcare providers will be contracted by the state,” DA Shadow Health Minister Siviwe Gwarube said.

On Monday, the bill was forwarded to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health for deliberation, part of the parliamentary process to pass a bill. The committee said it would hold nationwide public hearings before presenting the bill to the National Assembly for adoption. Enditem

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