Experts advocate access to quality healthcare through insurance system

A public policy and research group, Nextier Advisory, has hosted a group of experts and stakeholders to discuss access to quality healthcare by Nigerians through health insurance system.
The discussion with the theme: Health Insurance in Nigeria: Progress, Gaps and Challenges, held Wednesday in Abuja, had the experts review the country’s health insurance system, explore the challenges and gaps, and discuss pragmatic strategies to improve the system.
The discussants included the Head of Healthcare Financing Team at the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Nneka Orji; Head of Policy, Planning and International Collaborations at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Dr. Kurfi Abubakar; and Senior Health Economist at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Francis Ukwujie.
Similarly, the Director-General, Plateau State Contributory Healthcare Management Agency, Dr. Fabong Jemchang Yildam; and Head of Managed Care/NHIS Unit at the Federal Medical Centre, Abuja, Dr. Ephraim Okoye; were also part of the discussants.
In his presentation, Dr. Ikwujie observed that increasing enrolment had been buoyed by the efforts of State Governments at the subnational level.
On his part, Dr. Kurfi explained that the decentralisation of the system has enabled all 36 states in the country to now have their health insurance schemes, which have expanded the net of medically inspired citizens nationwide.
He also acknowledged the case made by some stakeholders for adjustment of the insurance premium rates in view of prevailing economic conditions, but insisted this must be done in moderation and matched by equally premium services by health care providers.
In his interventions, Dr. Fabong pointed out the immeasurable efforts of state governments towards expanding Universal Health Coverage, even as he gave several examples of what Plateau state government has been doing in that regard.
He revealed plans to get pharmaceutical companies to produce NHIS-branded generic medicines and medical supplies at lower costs in view of the high prices of many branded drugs of major global manufacturers.
Fabong further suggested that health insurance could be made to be tax-based instead of the current contributory scheme, so that more person can be captured in the schemes while services are improved.
On his part, Dr. Okoye equally described the nation’s health insurance system as a success story in spite of the challenges, noting that this was so much that his hospital has been almost overwhelmed with NHIS services that it has stopped further enrolment of new applicants pending when it can expand its facilities and operations to cater for more patients.
Answering questions from other participants who joined the event online, Okoye dismissed the insinuation that NHIS patients are treated less deservingly than cash paying or regular ones, maintaining that such incidents don’t occur at FMC, Abuja.
Dr. Orji, on his part, noted that for better working of the UHC, it needed to be watered down to country ownership by nations and communities choosing what works for them, as a firm global template may not work for everyone and every case.
She canvassed a narrowing of the gap between Essential Benefit Package and Minimum Benefit Package under the health insurance system, so that treatment of more severe illnesses like cancer can be made available to more patients.