Editorials

Increasing NHIF-approved facilities is a healthy step

nhif

NHIF head office in Upperhill, Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

BDgeneric_logo

Summary

  • The doubling of the number of hospital accredited by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) comes as a relief to many Kenyans who lack access to primary healthcare.
  • For years, the low number of NHIF-accredited hospitals has put members at a disadvantage by limiting their choices and increasing medical bills paid out of pocket.

The doubling of the number of hospital accredited by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) comes as a relief to many Kenyans who lack access to primary healthcare.

For years, the low number of NHIF-accredited hospitals has put members at a disadvantage by limiting their choices and increasing medical bills paid out of pocket.

The health facilities have risen from 4,281 in 2017 to 8,189 in June this year. Of the 3,908 new healthcare providers, 3,094 are government dispensaries and health centres.

More members who live in rural areas will now be able to access proper healthcare from doctors instead of self-medicating to avoid expensive hospital care or having to travel long distances to seek treatment.

It will also reduce the number of late diagnosis of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer which are increasingly burdening insurers and patients because they are costlier to treat in late stages.

The increased number of NHIF-accredited health facilities provides a good opportunity to ease pressure on the national referral hospitals. However, the expanded list will only be beneficial if the government dispensaries and health centres have drugs, diagnostic machines, well-equipped laboratories, and skilled personnel.

Most government dispensaries suffer chronic shortages of critical drugs and specialised care, forcing patients to travel to Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital for treatment. Those who cannot travel, die from lack of medicines.

While the NHIF has increased the number of accredited health facilities, it has scaled back the treatments it pays for patients. For instance, currently, the NHIF care package entails 20 sessions for radiotherapy, and up to two sessions for brachytherapy for advanced cancer per year.

But most cancer patients require 25 sessions of radiotherapy and three sessions of brachytherapy, for those with cervical cancer. When the cover lapses, the patients abandon treatment and the disease recurs.

Granted it is a tricky balancing act for the NHIF, but it can do more to cushion patients against financial hardships.