TALKING DRUM: Giving life to NDC’s collapsed NHIS

If you have ever seen how a cocoyam leaf touched by fire looks like, you would understand what I went through on that day, January 3, 2017. It was Tuesday. After I had reported for 3FM’s Midday News, from the Black Stars Square, on preparations ahead of the inaugural ceremony of the then president-elect, Nana Akufo Addo, I instantly felt as if I had received Manny Pacquiao’s punches. “Boss, I am resting a while in the stands at the Black Stars Square. I am very weak,” I sent a WhatsApp message to my editor. The driver on duty who was supposed to take me back to the office was Daniel Akoto. I felt so weak that I thought I needed a bit of rest before calling him for pick up. I had a friend, Obiri-Yeboah Maxwell, with me on location so I felt safe. As I laid down on some four broken chairs in one of the stands at the Black Stars Square, a message came through. It was from Kwakye Afreh Nuamah replying my message which informed him I was not well. “Wow. Charley go to hospital if you are not feeling well,” it read. I decided not to go to the hospital until the next day. Why? I had left my membership card of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) home. As a strong advocate of the NHIS insisting family and friends who are nonchalant about it get registered, I will go to the hospital with it. This is regardless the fact that the NHIS has on many occasions disappointed me. I get paid for basic drugs whenever I attended the hospital. So on the day after that Tuesday, I went to the hospital again with my NHIS card hoping our former President John Dramani Mahama and his National Democratic Congress’ assurance that the NHIS was doing well was, indeed, so. My disappointment after I left the Seventh-day Adventist Hospital at New-Gbawe, in the Greater Accra region, on January 4, 2017 was enormous. Since it was my first time at the SDA Hospital, the NHIS paid for my chit (the piece of paper a patient takes with him/her on attending a particular hospital). The guys have fixed the NHIS; things seem smooth now, I tickled myself. Then, I was told to laminate the chit costing Gh₵2. The NHIS did not pay for that and I understood my paying for it. Why? Because that had no direct bearing on why I came to the hospital. However, after I had danced my steps, felt cold within, to go see the doctor in the consulting room, I was told to go for a laboratory test. A test to find out what was troubling me. The test said I had severe malaria but I would not just be set free to battle the disease. I was told to pay GH₵8 for the laboratory test. The NHIS could not foot this new bill. Then when I was handed my folder to go for drugs, the lady at the dispensary gave me a piece of paper. It detailed my cost of drugs amounting to GH₵31. Among these drugs was paracetamol. “The NHIS will not cater for even paracetamol?” I asked. “It doesn’t,” she said. I was not surprised. At some hospitals also here in the Greater Accra region, I have always paid for my drugs [mainly a cure for malaria]. But, why is it so when I have a national health insurance cover? Is this insurance policy to cater for consultation fee and hospital chit as those were mainly the only things I did not pay for at the hospital? According to the official website of the NHIS, “Over 95% of disease conditions that afflict us are covered by the NHIS.” Our NHIS is supposed to cater for these diseases: “Malaria, acute respiratory tract infection, diarrheal disease, skin disease and ulcers, hypertension, acute eye infection, rheumatism, anemia, intestinal worms disorders, acute ear infection, typhoid fever, dental caries, diabetes mellitus and STIs,” and many more.

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That sounds nice, right? However, I can confidently say that the NHIS does not cater for even catarrh in most healthcare providers listed under the scheme. Having been wowed by basically paying for everything at the SDA Hospital at New Gbawe, I made a check on the NHIS’ website to verify if this health center was among the providers. Indeed, I found it listed among the NHIS providers. When I first raised this issue on Facebook that the NHIS has collapsed, a friend recounted how his mother had benefited from it. He said the scheme covered for them drugs that cost over GH₵1, 500. He says that perhaps I didn’t go to the right health center that is why I had to pay for mine. The logic here is that, some of these healthcare providers listed under the NHIS get paid for their services rendered. So, if you are fortunate to attend such facilities, since the NHIS does not owe them, you end up benefiting from the scheme. Rather interesting, should one be making announcements to check which of the healthcare providers the NHIS does not owe so he/she attends? We are paying for the services of the NHIS as SSNIT contributors get deducted and so on. So, why is that the scheme is financially bleeding? The NDC crippled the NHIS during its tenure in office. The new administration, the Nana Akufo-Addo led New Patriotic Party, has promised restoring the dignity of the scheme. Dear President, at your recent State of the Nation Address [SONA 2017], you again reiterated your promise to restore the NHIS. The time is now. Many of us do not have the financial strength to go for treatment in the Americas and the Europes. All we are asking for is to get the NHIS working, as it did in its initial stages, so we do not pay for common paracetamol.
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By Solomon Mensah The writer is a broadcast journalist with 3FM 92.7. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect 3FM’s editorial policy. Email: [email protected] ]]>