CAIRO: The Administrative Court halted government plans to place Egypt’s health insurance system under the control of a profit-making company, in a judgement issued on Thursday in what a rights advocate called a “historic verdict.
The case was raised by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) in April 2007.
The verdict forces the government to suspend implementation of its plans until a final verdict is issued.
“In this historic decision the judiciary stood by the public’s right to health, and stood in the path of a government plan aimed at gradually turning health into a profit-driven commodity, EIPR director Hossam Bahgat said in a statement on Thursday.
In a briefing EIPR explained that in April 2007 a prime ministerial decision was issued which sought to create a holding company for health care and transfer the ownership of all health insurance clinics and hospitals to it.
EIPR’s case contended that in taking this decision the prime minister exceeded the powers given to him by turning public funds into privately-owned funds and transferring assets owned by a public body to companies.
About half of Egypt’s population are insured under the health insurance system.
EIPR suggested in the briefing that the plans also prevent a public body from offering health care to the beneficiaries of health insurance – as it is legally obliged to do by law – and transfers responsibility for tasks assigned to it by law, such as management of funds and employees, to the holding company’s board of administration.
This, the briefing explains, is in violation of Egyptian law which provides that the assets, tasks and competencies of a public body cannot be altered by prime ministerial decree.
In addition, EIPR warns that the cost of the plan to turn social health insurance into a profit-based enterprise would fall on the shoulders of health insurance beneficiaries: the fact that the holding company is profit-driven and has investment functions will add a profit margin to treatment and necessarily increase its cost. In May 2007 over 20 Egyptian NGOs formed the Committee for the Defence of the Right to Health in order to challenge both the prime ministerial decision concerning the holding company and government plans to privatise health insurance.
Privatisation, EIPR says, would mean “dealing with the right to health as a commodity which can be bought and sold for profit, rather than as a service the state is obliged to offer the public on at minimum cost.
Dr Mohamed Hassan Khalil, a member of the Committee, told Daily News Egypt that the plan for the holding company is “complementary to a draft law which would alter health insurance beneficiaries’ contributions to their treatment.
“The government has been trying to pass this draft law since January 2006, but has been unsuccessful because of opposition to it.
“The law means less services and more subscription fees, and forces those receiving treatment under health insurance to contribute about one third of the cost of treatment as well as forcing them to pay upfront at the time of receiving treatment, Khalil explained.