Economy

Uhuru backs teachers ouster from NHIF board

nhif

The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) in this picture taken on Tuesday, October 26, 2021. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

President Uhuru Kenyatta has backed the ouster of teachers and NGO representatives from the board of the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) in late changes made to the law, tightening the government’s grip on the cash-rich insurer.

The President signed the NHIF (Amendment) Bill, 2022 into law, denying the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and NGOs lobby the right to each have a board seat at the public health insurer.

The changes also saw representatives of farmers and the insurers lobby –Association of Kenya Insurers (AKI)—lose the automatic right to seats on the board of the NHIF in line with the 1998 law that was repealed last week.

The review of board seats was not in the State-backed Bill initially tabled in Parliament, suggesting it was quietly inserted during debate in the National Assembly to avoid resistance from the combative teachers’ union.

Mr Kenyatta approved the changes that took effect last Friday in a review that also allowed the Cabinet Secretary for Health to tap two people of his liking to serve on the NHIF board.

The previous law restricted the Cabinet Secretary to picking the two from AKI and an NGO that serves the health sector.

The board shake-up will give the government a firm grip on the cash-rich fund that collects more than Sh58 billion from workers annually.

The State will now control 70 percent of the 11-member board that will include two members from the council of governors, up from the initial 40 percent on the previous 12-member board.

NHIF board members that are affected by the new law have been allowed to serve the remainder of their terms.

“A person who is a member of the National Hospital Insurance Fund board at the time of commencement of this Act shall serve for the remainder of his or her unexpired term,” the NHIF (Amendment) Act 2022 says.

Knut is currently represented on the NHIF board by Wycliffe Omucheyi, whose three-year term expires in July, while Latiff Shaban represents faith-based organisations. NHIF board members serve for a term of three years that can be renewed once.

On Wednesday, Knut protested the changes.

Assistant secretary-general Hesbon Agola warned they would go to the court in what promises to open a fresh round of hostilities with the government.

“It will be unfortunate if teachers who contribute over 300,000 members to the NHIF are no longer represented. We as teachers will not take it lightly and we will challenge this before the courts. It is an unfortunate case that cannot be allowed to happen,” Mr Agola told the Business Daily.

Federation of Kenyan Employers, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions and the Kenya Medical Association are the only private lobbies that retained the right to seats on the NHIF board.

The new law brings to an end years of failed efforts by the State to kick out teachers and NGOs from the NHIF board, which will now lead the rollout of universal health coverage.

Employers and the unions have in the past protested the government’s efforts to remove them from the board, saying that the NHIF belongs to workers who fully fund its operations and not the government.

They have argued that having representatives on the NHIF board gives them the opportunity to influence the strategic direction of the fund.

Top among the roles of the new board will be to determine the monthly contributions for every Kenyan aged above 18 years and the penalties for those who fail to comply.

NHIF membership is compulsory for all Kenyans working in the formal sector, who pay between Sh150 and Sh1,700 per month based on one’s salary. Informal workers join voluntarily and pay Sh500 per month.

Membership to the NHIF for all Kenyans aged above 18 became compulsory from last Friday when the NHIF (Amendment) Act 2022 became law as Kenya seeks to roll out affordable healthcare.

Compulsory membership to the State insurer will boost the NHIF’s funding pool in the face of a rise in hospital bills, an increase in lifestyle diseases and fraudulent claims that alone bleed the agency an estimated Sh16 billion annually.

The government is hinging a successful rollout of the UHC on compulsory membership of all Kenyans aged above 18 years in the race to cover treatment of diseases such as cancer and other lifestyle ailments whose bills are beyond the reach of majority of households.

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