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Much confusion in NHIF story, no clarity on state plans for public health insurer

What, pray, is happening to the National Hospital Insurance Fund? Media Is not telling a straight story.

Ever heard a fellow talking like cherehani, but you ask, what is he talking about? That is what’s going on. Media won’t stop talking about NHIF. But it’s hard making sense of what exactly is the problem.

Here is the case.

With zero warning, a headline by the Daily Nation said, “Cabinet approves scrapping NHIF, to be replaced by three new Funds”.

Blink, blink. Was it April Fool’s Day? No, it was August 29. So, what was that?

The intro of the story by Mary Wambui startled even more. “The Cabinet has repealed the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) and replaced it with three separate funds

The Cabinet has done WHAT?

Ok, so NHIF has had bad press lately. Sample these headlines in three days of June alone:

  • NHIF heist: How rogue health facilities preyed on elderly to mint millions” (Daily Nation, June 19)
  • KMA condemns medical fraud through NHIF” (Citizen Digital, June 20)
  • NHIF probe: Hospitals implicated suspended for 90 days” (The Star, June 21).

Still, the government wants to scrap NHIF?

The Nation’s story added that in its place, NHIF would be replaced by three funds: Primary Healthcare Fund; Social Health Insurance Fund and the Emergency, Chronic and Critical Illness Fund.

But why? The story didn’t say. Instead, three paragraphs down it veered into a different direction.

At the same time, the Cabinet resolved to set maize prices to cushion farmers…

It was like waking up to the news that Safaricom is scrapping M-Pesa. Then, in the next sentence, the newsman saying that, meanwhile, boys in Nairobi’s Huruma estate will be happy because prices of ngumu have dropped.

For starters, this NHIF headline was too big a news flash to treat flippantly, by adding on to it all sorts of other news items, like you were decorating the Christmas tree.

Clearly, the writer and all her editors did not have a sense of how big a story this was.

Then, Cabinet scrapping NHI… who saw that coming? NHIF was born in 1966. And government just woke up and decided to kill it? Why? Under what process? Where is public participation?

Is NHIF broken? Yes. So, what does killing it help? Why not fix it? What’s going to be different with these new three funds?

It sounded like the US Republican party crowing since 2011 that they will repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s signature achievement, Obamacare, which is beloved by Democrats.

When asked, replace it with what? Nobody has ideas. But, well, Kenya’s Cabinet here has not one but three brilliant replacements to the country’s 57-year-old public health insurer, which is particular popular among rural communities.

What are these three funds, anyway? Oh, you don’t know? Didn’t ask?

And wait, can the Executive repeal a law? “Repeal” is a legislative process.

Other media have been scrambling to tell the NHIF story. Here, still on August 29:

  • The Standard: “Cabinet okays NHIF scrapping if four bills get MPs nod”. This story was reported in the right pitch, that Cabinet was proposing
  • The Star: “Cabinet approves splitting of NHIF funding model into 3”. Well, “approving” suggests the end of a process. Hands up: Did anyone here know of any process to kill NHIF?
  • The Star: “Ruto: Vulnerable groups to access NHIF for free in new funding model

This story said that the government wants to increase funding of NHIF. Oh, so it’s not scrapping NHIF? More confusion.

  • Business Daily (September 1): “President Ruto plans compulsory 2.75pc NHIF deductions”. Still more confusion. What’s going on? Is it dead or is it being propped up?

It is a cacophony of noise. Perhaps media should steer the debate on to underlining two relevant imageries for our times.

One, that people should not shake a tree too violently. It’s not how to harvest fruits. Two, that national government is like a big ocean liner. To change course, you cannot swing a large liner suddenly. Something will snap.

The Star said it pointedly in its August 4 headline: “Housing Tax, NHIF law could make or break Ruto’s rule.”

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