CAIRO: Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif’s plans to privatize Egypt’s health insurance system would have been “a complete waste of public money, said Khaled Ali, chairman of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
Ali was speaking at a press conference held by the Journalists’ Syndicate to discuss the Administrative Court’s decision to halt initial plans of privatization.
The government’s claims that it wants to privatize the health insurance system to improve the quality of services are invalid, Ali argued, because privatizing it would only make it unavailable to the public.
“The constitution doesn’t give the prime minister the authority to issue such a decree. The president and the People’s Assembly are the only entities who can issue those kinds of decrees, Ali added.
Earlier this month, the Administrative Court halted government plans to place Egypt’s health insurance system under the control of a profit-making company, in what a rights advocate called a “historic verdict.
The Administrative Court ruled that “the money allocated for health insurance is public money, and the government is not at liberty to handle it.
The case was raised by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) in April 2007 and the verdict forces the government to suspend implementation of its plans until a final verdict is issued.
The current non-profitable health insurance system covers 40 hospitals, 600 polyclinics, 3,000 institute clinics, and 500 pharmacies.
The press conference was attended by Mohamed Abdel Quddous, chairman of the Journalists’ Syndicate’s freedoms committee, Mohamed Hassan Khalil, chairman of the committee for the defense of the right to health, Dr Ahmed Baker, member of the Doctors Without Rights movement, and Abdel Moniem Ebeid, book author specialized in anti-privatization.
According to Ali, the government defended its decision by saying that it resorted to privatization due to a lack of financial resources. Ali refutes this claim, saying that there was an estimated LE 184 million surplus in this year’s national budget.
Ali admits that the current health insurance system needs to be improved, not canceled altogether.
Statistics released by the Cabinet’s office, Ali claims, indicate that the public is pleased with the current health insurance system and the services it provides.
“A survey shows that 76 percent [of the surveyed sample] lauded the surgeries conducted in hospitals covered by health insurance, and 82 percent said that the medical equipment available at those hospitals are in good shape, Ali said.
At the press conference, Abdel Geleel Mostafa, a Kefaya movement coordinator and member of the committee for the defense of the right to health, spoke of the importance of the Administrative Court’s verdict.
“[The verdict] is a very important tool by which we [those who oppose the privatization] can fight the government and the authoritarian political system.
In the sixth and final meeting of the People’s Assembly’s health committee before the annual recess, Health Minister Hatem El Gabaly announced that the new health insurance law will be implemented in Sohag, Damietta and Suez governorates in 2010.
Sources at the ministry who preferred to remain anonymous told Daily News Egypt in a previous interview that these three governorates were chosen on a trial basis to test the law because they do not have high poverty rates.
The new law – which will again be under discussion in the People’s Assembly – would, if implemented, require citizens to pay 25 percent of the total treatment bill as well as one-third of the cost of prescriptions.