The current health insurance program has identified the elderly, completely disabled, leprosy, Multi-Drug Resistant TB patients, people living with HIV, and ultra-poor as target populations to waive their premium. Though not adequate, this is an equity approach.
But none of these target populations are eligible for private health insurance, or they will have to pay a much higher premium. It will be unwise to assume that these companies will change overnight and be equitable. They are powerful enough to influence government policy and have the power to bend them to suit their commercial interests.
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Instead, the government should strengthen the Health Insurance Board and explore ways to integrate health security with the broader social security scheme. In the short term, there are urgent but straightforward reforms like recruiting adequate and skilled human resources, strengthening the organisational systems, revising the design of service purchase strategy and equity, and gradually, having effective providers/purchasers split for better implementation.
Ultimately, the program will benefit by forming a broader and more robust social security structure, co-incidentally introduced at the same time by the government. It would be able to absorb costs by pooling tax-based health care contributions and merging subsidies given to the treatment of cancer, renal failure, and other chorionic diseases under one integrated umbrella.
But the current government does not appear serious about reforming health insurance, and simply does not understand the fundamental principles of health security. Health insurance is not just limited to providing health care, but is a part of broader health security.
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The idea that health security can be strengthened by passing the buck to the private sector amounts to abandoning the constitutional commitment to provide health care, not as a service but as a citizen’s fundamental right. The Nepal government is a signatory to achieving the health targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.
As argued by Nepali Congress leader Gagan Thapa, who is one of the pioneers who pushed health insurance in Nepal, they contribute to strengthening the health system, strive for healthy populations, cushion the poor and provide them access to health services. It is a vehicle for mobilising adequate health resources, enhancing health security, and ultimately achieving Universal Health Coverage.
These goals cannot be met by trading the people’s health as mere commodities.
Gaj Gurung has a PhD in public health from Chulalongkorn University and Sushil Koirala is a public health expert. Both are based in Bangkok.
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