Over 100,000 written submissions on NHI Bill received by parliament

23 October 2019 - 16:08 By Andisiwe Makinana
South Africa is moving ahead with the controversial NHI Bill, which received more than 100,000 written submissions from the public.
South Africa is moving ahead with the controversial NHI Bill, which received more than 100,000 written submissions from the public.
Image: Daily Dispatch/Alan Eason

Parliament has received more than 100,000 written submissions to the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, with a few weeks still to go before the November 29 deadline.

The bill seeks to provide equal primary health care to all South Africans, regardless of their employment and financial status. However, it has drawn criticism from opposition parties and some experts in the health sector, who argue that South Africans should not be compelled to join the proposed scheme whether they wished to or not. Its rollout was expected to cost around R250bn a year.

Sibongiseni Dhlomo, chairperson of the National Assembly's portfolio committee on health, told parliamentary journalists on Wednesday that they had received more than 100,000 written submissions - mainly from organised groups who made their input collectively.

“In our view there is not going to be any other revolution in health for the next 100 years that will ever surpass this programme that we are embarking on as of this weekend,” he said.

The health committee will be embarking on a process of public hearings, starting in Mpumalanga on Friday. It will visit Nkomazi, Bushbuckridge and Thembisile local municipalities and the Gert Sibande district municipality over four days, from Friday to Monday.

The initial closing date for written submissions was October 11, but this was extended to November 29 to allow for broader participation after calls for an extension.

Cedric Frolick, the National Assembly's chairperson responsible for the work of portfolio committees, said those who responded timeously included various groups who collectively submitted their input on behalf of communities and community organisations, although the general response had been slow.

“Already in the submissions that have been made from organised groups, there have been questions around the financing and affordability of this bill,” he said.

The committee is hoping to finalise its work on the proposed bill in June 2020.

Meanwhile, the ad hoc committee tasked with amending section 25 of the constitution will be working overtime to meet a March 31 deadline set by parliament. Frolick said the committee would sit after hours and during plenary sessions of parliament to finalise the draft bill that the public would have to comment on.

“We anticipate the draft bill should be ready by mid-December, when we will then follow the necessary process to get it advertised in the Government Gazette so that the public can comment on it during January,” he added.

Mathole Motshekga, who chairs the ad hoc committee, said because the section they are dealing with is entrenched in the Bill of Rights, they are assembling “the best legal brains” to ensure that their output would meet the aspirations of all South Africans.

“Our mandate is clear now: it's that of amending section 25, a section which is part of the entrenched Bill of Rights … This is not a matter of who has how many numbers; it's something that must done in the best interest of the people of South Africa as a whole and in the best interest of the country," he said.