SOUTH AFRICA—South Africa’s National Council of Provinces (NCOP), the upper house of parliament, achieved a significant milestone on Wednesday by passing a bill on health insurance.

The National Health Insurance (NHI) bill, had previously cleared the National Assembly on June 12 and was sent to the NCOP for concurrence, as highlighted in a statement released by the parliament of South Africa.

The NHI bill is now set to advance to the office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for consideration and eventual signing into law.

According to the parliament’s statement, a key objective of the bill is to establish a National Health Insurance Fund and outline its powers, functions, and governance structures.

This fund is designed to procure healthcare services for all registered users, fostering the realization of universal health coverage for every South African citizen.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla expressed his satisfaction with the adoption of the NHI bill by the NCOP, deeming it a landmark moment in the country’s commitment to achieving universal health coverage.

He emphasized the phased-approached implementation of NHI as a mechanism to ensure equitable access to quality healthcare for all citizens.

In a statement following the vote, Phaahla conveyed confidence in creating a healthcare system that is fair, efficient, and accessible with the support of all stakeholders.

During the NCOP vote, eight out of nine provinces, including those governed by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), approved the bill, with the opposition-led Western Cape being the sole province voting against it.

Opposition parties, such as the Democratic Alliance, Economic Freedom Fighters, Inkatha Freedom Party, and Freedom Front Plus, rejected the NHI bill, citing concerns about it being an “electioneering” program of the ANC and deeming it “unaffordable,” as reported by Xinhua news outlet.

The Health Funders Association (HFA) has also petitioned President Ramaphosa to reconsider certain aspects of the proposed legislation.

HFA noted that the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces’ adoption of the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill is a disservice to South Africa and its citizens.

In adopting the NHI Bill in its current form, Parliament has failed to take proper cognizance of the implications for citizens’ constitutional rights, healthcare as a whole, and South Africa, according to Craig Comrie, chairperson of the HFA.

Craig highlighted the importance of the President, as the guardian of the Constitution, being fully aware of the unintended, yet completely foreseeable, consequences signing the NHI Bill into law in its current form would have for South Africa.

He urged that there is still time to make the required changes to the bill that would help make the goals of Universal Health Coverage achievable and sustainable in South Africa.

Craig, therefore, petitioned the President to send the draft legislation back to Parliament for the necessary amendments to ensure it is aligned with the true aims of Universal Health Coverage and the Constitution to serve South Africa better.

Since its introduction in 2019, the bill has faced criticism from various quarters, including the medical profession, the private healthcare industry, medical aid schemes, and other stakeholders, as highlighted in local media reports.