NHIF system outage leaves patients stranded

Geoffrey Mwangi
NHIF chief executive officer Geoffrey Mwangi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Patients using National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) cards to access health services and clear hospital bills were Wednesday left stranded following a system outage that lasted hours.

Thousands of patients, who had planned to settle their bills using NHIF cards, were forced to make cash payments or wait until the system became operational later in the afternoon.

It was not immediately clear what caused the outage and the Business Daily’s effort to reach NHIF chief executive officer Geoffrey Mwangi for an official statement went unanswered.

Cashiers and account officers working in some of the top NHIF registered hospitals said the occasional outage started last week before climaxing into a full-blown system failure Wednesday.

NHIF contributors who visited the agency's offices were left for hours without any explanation of the outage even as they were subjected to manual settlement.

The outage caused long queues and massive delays in treatment centres to the chagrin of its members. A principal NHIF card holder, who went to pick his wife from Nairobi’s Coptic Hospital in the morning was kept waiting for hours and only managed to discharge his patient in the late afternoon after waiting for more than five hours.

“I have an NHIF card but the system is down. I am disappointed that I contribute every month without fail but in return this is what I get. The cashier has suggested that I wait or pay cash. I get deducted every month, I will keep waiting until it works,” he said.

Kenya’s biggest referral hospital Kenyatta, which hosts an NHIF payments office, was able to manually clear its patients.

“Unlike most hospitals we have an NHIF office here and the payments are being processed manually. The NHIF office manager has informed me that from our end we are handling the situation and those making payments are getting the help they need,” corporate affairs and communications manager Simon Ithai said.

The NHIF scheme, which is open to any Kenyan over the age of 18 with a monthly income of over Sh1,000, has reached national coverage of about 25 million people, including contributors’ dependents.

Three years ago, NHIF increased workers contributions from Sh320 to a graduated scale of between Sh500 and Sh1,700 per month based on each worker’s monthly pay.

The higher fees came with introduction of outpatient cover for contributors and enhanced benefits for specialised treatment such as cancer and kidney dialysis.

In the six months to December, for instance, NHIF collected Sh23.6 billion from the seven million members and paid out Sh17.3 billion in claims.

Operational expenses consumed Sh3.2 billion, leaving the fund with a Sh3.1 billion half-year surplus.

Insurance brokerage firm AON Minet Kenya said in a recent report that Kenya’s medical inflation stood higher at 12 per cent last year, above the general cost of living measure that averaged eight per cent in 2017.

The study attributed the higher healthcare inflation to a rise in lifestyle diseases and the ever climbing cost of imported medical equipment.