The National Health Insurance Scheme will be delayed, it seems, even before it reaches a semblance of solidity.
On Monday the Health Department said proposals would only be made public in November, which does not make for a law by December, as the ANC originally promised. We are a long, long way from legislation. Both the ANC and the Health Ministry have several times promised extensive consultation before the NHI is implemented. That implementation will likely be delayed by a court challenge or two. That makes for sufficient time to take us into World Cup territory, at which point the country will come to a standstill and nothing will get done for several more months.
So what is Government playing at starting the delays so early in the process? Predictably, officials say the proposals have to go to a cabinet committee before its made public for further comment.
Perhaps the ANC was just over-excited earlier this year. Or, as we are more inclined to believe, it could be that the people at the top of the health tree realise that the NHIC will be neither effective nor efficient. Perhaps they realise that it won't be cheap and that it would require an enormous new bureaucracy to run. Maybe they'd prefer to take it slow – very slow.
If you were health minister Aaron Motsoaledi, maybe the NHI issue makes you think back to Aids in the Manto era. People dying in queues, front page new stories about people dying in queues, and accusations of everything from human rights abuses to murder laid at your door. The final straw: when the first cabinet member gets caught smuggling a sick child to Botswana for very expensive medical treatment. (We bet it ends up being Paul Mashitile.)
If you were Motsoaledi, who feels passionate about this system, it would make sense to work on the worst pitfalls in the background, before talking too much in public. Also, it may make sense to have your deputy make all the speeches in the meanwhile. Molefi Sefularo has either taken to the spotlight, or is being pushed into it. Let's see who fronts the final proposal.
By Stephen Grootes
(Grootes is EWN reporter, www.ewn.co.za)