Economy

MPs reject State bid to control hospital charges

house-SENATECHERARGEI0708GG

Parliament buildings in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

john-mutua-img

Summary

  • Parliament has rejected a government-backed Bill that sought to control medical bills and doctors’ fees after health sector lobbies protested their views had not been taken into account.
  • National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said Thursday that the Committee on Health did not show proof that it considered views from stakeholders and reasons for ignoring their input.
  • Under the Health (Amendment) Bill, 2021, hospital charges were to be determined and capped by an 11-member council that includes the Principal Secretary for Health, the Attorney-General and a representative of the Council of Governors.

Parliament has rejected a government-backed Bill that sought to control medical bills and doctors’ fees after health sector lobbies protested their views had not been taken into account.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said Thursday that the Committee on Health did not show proof that it considered views from stakeholders and reasons for ignoring their input.

Under the Health (Amendment) Bill, 2021, hospital charges were to be determined and capped by an 11-member council that includes the Principal Secretary for Health, the Attorney-General and a representative of the Council of Governors.

This would have seen hospital charges join fuel on the list of essential services that are controlled by the government in the push to make basic items affordable.

The committee will now conduct fresh public hearings before preparing a report on Bill that aims to curb the surge in hospital expenses.

Parliament, under Article 118 of the Constitution, is compelled to seek public input in the course of changing a law through public sittings, inviting submission of memoranda and expert views

“It is my opinion that the conduct of public participation in the Bill is incomplete and wanting to that extent. The committee must invite the public to participate in the consideration of the Bill and prescribe the adequate period in which submissions are to be made,” Speaker Muturi said yesterday.

House committees are required to include stakeholder views and reasons for accepting or declining sections in a proposed law.

The Speaker’s ruling came amid concerns that the committee overlooked views from lobbies that represent medical workers, including doctors, pharmacists, and clinical officers.

Medical bills, especially in top private hospitals, have outpaced the national inflation in recent years and added more pressure on families at a time they are grappling with the erosion of purchasing power.

Some health providers have attributed the steep rise in medical inflation to a similar rise in the cost of medicines, doctors’ fees and medical equipment that is passed on to end users to keep their businesses afloat.

The steep rise in the cost of medical services is also piling pressure on insurance premiums, with demands that consumers pay more to access services.

A section of insurers, however, accused medical practitioners of driving up medical inflation through many charges for services that patients do not need.

Some doctors take patients through procedures such as various lab tests for which they charge the insurers exorbitantly, raising the overall cost of medicare.

Besides the possibility of locking out low-income earners from accessing quality medical care, the increase in medical charges is expected to take a huge chunk of expenditure from the upper- and middle-class families, eroding their purchasing power on discretionary expenses.

Private hospitals had opposed the bid to have the government control hospital charges, arguing it risks lowering the quality of medical care.

Due to low insurance penetration, a quarter of Kenyans’ healthcare bills are paid out of pocket, according to the World Bank.

This leaves many families vulnerable and reliant on debt and donations from friends and families or disposal of assets such as livestock.

The push to tame hospital bills comes at a time a parliamentary committee backed a Bill that will see the State control commercial and residential rents in the quest to protect tenants from sharp building lease costs.

The government-backed Landlord and Tenant Bill of 2021 demands that rent increase should not exceed the annual average inflation rate for the preceding year.

The Committee on Transport, Public Works and Housing approved the Landlord and Tenant Bill of 2021, setting the stage for its debate and passage by the house.

Kenya has preferred to let market forces control the cost of basic commodities despite the presence of a law that provides for capping of prices.

In 2011, a law was enacted allowing the return to price controls of essential commodities, after the practice was abandoned in the 1990s in favour of economic liberalisation.

The law allows the Treasury Cabinet Secretary to declare certain goods essential commodities and determine their maximum prices through an order in the Kenya Gazette.

This order has only been issued once in 2017 when the State capped the price of two-kilo packet of maize flour at Sh90 after the cost of the commodity more than doubled to breach Sh150.

In November 2019, Kenya removed a cap on commercial lending rates imposed in 2016, which had been blamed for curbing private sector lending growth.

The government has also announced plans to introduce price controls for cooking gas in a bid to protect consumers against high cost of fuel.

To ease the medical bills burden, the State is seeking to change the law to allow the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) to offer medical cover for all.

Under the scheme, every adult Kenyan will soon make an annual compulsory Sh6,000 contribution to the NHIF.