CAIRO: Political parties and rights activists have angrily rejected suggestions that there exists no real opposition to the draft health insurance law currently before parliament.
During an edition of satellite channel Dream TV’s “Sabah Dream program broadcast last week, Health Minister Hatem El-Gabaly said that there exists a broad consensus in favor of the draft law. He alleged that the 63 civil society organizations and political parties that signed a document rejecting the draft “only exist on paper.
El-Gabaly added that the Wafd and Tagammu parties have expressed support for the draft, claims which Mohamed Abdel-Aziz Shaaban and Mohamed Zahran, from the Tagammu and Wafd parties respectively, rejected during a press conference held at the Journalists’ Syndicate on Thursday.
“I affirm that the Tagammu party rejects this draft law and that we have not been consulted on it by the government, Shaaban said, adding that the state is under an obligation to pay all the healthcare costs of individuals covered by the health insurance system.
The government set in motion plans to change Egypt’s health insurance system four years ago. From the outset health activists have warned that the plans – which will require health insurance beneficiaries to pay a percentage cost of treatment received in hospital as well as a percentage of the cost of medicines – will render treatment under the health insurance system out of reach for many Egyptians.
In September 2008, the government’s plans received a setback when the State Council’s Administrative Court held that a prime ministerial decree which sought to create a holding company for health care and transfer the ownership of all health insurance clinics and hospitals to it was unconstitutional.
Member of the Committee for the Defense of the Right to Health Mohamed Hassan Khalil told the press conference that in December 2009 the State Council also issued a non-binding opinion in which it rejected the current draft law, citing the unconstitutionality of 12 of its articles.
Khalil condemned the health minister’s denial of the existence of popular opposition to the draft law as well as the failure of the government to make public the numerous versions of the law that have been drafted since the last draft was revealed in a newspaper in June 2008.
According to Khalil, nine versions of the draft law have been drawn up since that time. The Al-Ahaly newspaper on Wednesday printed what it said is the latest version of the draft law.
Article 9 of the law that appeared in Al-Ahaly provides that health insurance beneficiaries will pay 30 percent of the cost of treatment and medicine outside the hospital and 25 percent of these costs while in hospital. These costs will increase in line with inflation.
The draft law also refers to what it calls “personal health crises, which it defines as “serious, life-threatening emergency illnesses whose treatment exhausts entirely, or exceeds, the financial resources allocated to the patient.
Article 5 of the draft law provides health insurance coverage of such illnesses and is made by prime ministerial decree in individual cases.
Speakers warned during the press conference that in effect this means the health insurance system proposed by the government is not comprehensive, and only covers certain illnesses.
Zahran said that this “will force people to seek private healthcare treatment.
“People can’t afford to pay out of their own pockets, Zahran added.
Mohamed Abdel-Hakim, director of the Egyptian Institute for the Right to Development echoed this.
He questioned how female rural workers, “who earn 10 piasters per hour would be able to afford the cost of healthcare treatment under this scheme, adding, “the state doesn’t own healthcare, the people do. It can’t therefore sell something it doesn’t own.
Alaa Ghanem, health and human rights program director at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, added that 52 percent of people in rural areas will not be able to afford treatment under the law.
He demanded that the government increase spending on healthcare, saying that for the last 10 years expenditure has stood at 5 percent and must increase to at least 10 percent.
“Healthcare is a right, not a gift, Ghanem said.