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Thursday, 22 June 2017

N381bn NHIS fund: Beneficiaries storm House, disagree on service

John Ameh, Abuja

There was confusion at the National Assembly on Thursday when beneficiaries of the National Health Insurance Scheme disagreed among themselves over whom to blame for the poor healthcare services provided to them by operators of the scheme.

While some the beneficiaries, otherwise known as enrollees, asserted that the Health Maintenance Organisations acted promptly by paying for services, other enrollees protested and disagreed with the assertion.

The House of Representatives Committee on Health Services is investigating the “Compliance Rate of HMOs to the NHIS Contributions and Utilisation of Funds by Healthcare Providers and Inhuman Treatment of Enrollees.”

The committee is chaired by an All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Imo State, Mr. Chike Okafor.

The Federal Government has spent over N381bn on the insurance scheme since 2005 through deductions from the salaries of civil servants registered under it.

However, many Nigerians had petitioned the House to complain about non-delivery of services by HMOs and service providers.

The committee had disclosed that “over 450” petitions were lodged at the House by the complaints.

Only on Wednesday, the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole; the Executive Secretary of the NHIS, Prof. Yusuf Usman; and the HMOs had traded words over the poor services and the need to account for the N381bn the scheme had gulped since inception in 2005.

Thursday was the day to hear the views of the enrollees on the implementation of the scheme.

However, drama started when some enrollees took sides with the HMOs, while many others opposed them, accusing their fellow beneficiaries of not telling the truth.

There was confusion at the session as lawmakers watched the unfolding disagreement in disbelief.

One of the enrollees taking sides with the HMOs, Mr. Olalekan Oluleti, told lawmakers that the health system could have crashed but for the intervention of the HMOs during critical moments.

He argued that whenever government hospitals went on strike, the HMOs would intervene by quickly referring enrollees to private hospitals for treatment.

Oluleti, who gave the name of his HMO as ‘Idea,’ recalled how the organisation acted promptly to rescue a pregnant woman in labour when resident doctors were on strike at the National Hospital, Abuja.

“The problem of the health sector is not just about HMOs. It is systemic, which has to be addressed holistically,” he stated.

But, as Oluleti spoke, other enrollees shouted at him to get down from the rostrum.

“Shut up and get down; you are not speaking the truth! Where do you work?

“Lies! What you are saying are lies,” they shouted.

One visibly agitated woman, Mrs. Fatimah Abdulkadir-Omowunmi, rose from her seat and made to approach Oluleti to force him to step down from the rostrum.

As members intervened to stop her, more enrollees shouted, calling on the members to allow Abdulkadir-Omowunmi to address the session.

When she spoke, Abdulkadir-Omowunmi, a nurse, debunked the claims of Oluleti, saying that she too was registered under the same ‘Idea’ HMO.

She recounted how she almost lost her sick son after she put several calls to the HMO and there was no response.

“I ended up treating my child by myself. Why all these HMOs everywhere? Every hospital that you visit, they keep telling you, HMO, HMO; why must it be so?,” she stated.

The committee abruptly stopped taking submissions from the enrollees in a bid to bring the mounting tension among them under control.

When the committee asked the HMOs to make their final submission, their representative, Dr. Lekan Ewenla, said the organisations were “victims of blackmail.”

“All that is happening here today is an attempt to blackmail the HMOs. Seventy per cent of the N381bn or whatever billions being quoted here went to the hospitals, the healthcare providers,” Ewenla insisted.

However, the Executive Secretary of the NHIS, Prof. Yusuf Usman, made more allegations, accusing the HMOs of collecting N60bn in the last 12 years as “administrative fees alone.”

Usman also insisted that he would no longer release funds to the HMOs three months ahead, but monthly, so that he could monitor their compliance status on payments to healthcare providers.

The committee chairman, Okafor, interjected to say, “If the law says three months, and now you are saying one month, it is an offence. You will go to jail.”

As the session ended, the executive secretary made to shake hands with some representatives of the HMOs, but they turned him down. They were still in rage, accusing Usman of blackmailing them.

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