"I don’t have health care insurance and so I don’t care what my President is doing about it," that was a comment from an American citizen after US leader Barrack Obama’s health care speech to Congress on Wednesday.
The comment, though made oceans away, best illustrates the attitude in Kenya on the same issue.
However, the situation in the two countries differ significantly; Kenyans are among the least health insured in the world while the US is among the top 10 countries with most health cover.
Kenyans are so resigned to their pitiful state that no one is questioning why their government seems not to be spending any sleepless nights on this issue. One would dare go as far as calling it “discrimination against the sick”.
Shocking statistics released by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) earlier this year revealed that 80 percent of Kenyans do not have medical cover. Meanwhile, the government is so asleep on this matter that it is nearing comatose. Its lack of any tangible response to this alarming news goes to show how much it cares for your health.
It goes without saying that there is urgent need for the Government to device concrete plans and undertake revolutionary health reforms to ensure accessibility to quality medical care. The mere slapping of smoking bans does not constitute health reform, there’s more to it than that.
We cannot allow Kenyans to be exposed during health emergencies and other diseases that result into very high medical bills.
The government must come up with initiatives to reach the majority poor who cannot access private medical schemes. It’s ironic that medical cover in this country is freely and widely available to the richer classes. Our poor meanwhile cannot afford the most basic of medical care.
It is embarrassing and intensely objectionable to see news bulletins of people locked up in hospitals because of bills which would be settled a million times over with just the annual budget for flowers in government offices. Worse is accident victims who are left to die because they have no insurance and no money.
There is therefore urgent need to provide affordable cover for the poor if we are to avoid a crisis.
Employers should mandatorily avail as well and indeed sustain employee medical cover due to the rising cost of health care.
NHIF not only needs an extreme makeover but it must also be facilitated to attract more people in the informal sector into its cover.
The government should also ensure quality health care in its medical institutions. The death toll from public health institutions is nearing suspect levels. Kenyans need doctors who know what they are doing as opposed to groping around in the dark when it comes to diagnosing.
There is also need to work with existing insurance providers to come up with new covers and extend the intake below the traditional upper middle class bracket.
All these can be possible if the government was to urgently launch the National Social Health Insurance Fund that has been in the works for some time now.
There is urgent need to improve health insurance for those who have it and to create an insurance exchange to extend cover to those who do not.
The government however needs to be careful here and not impose a social tax on the employed in order to provide universal health care to all Kenyans.
Kenyans must demand that the government comes forward and issues a call to action as Washington has boldly done.
What Mr Obama said well resonates with Kenya; that failure to introduce health reforms will surely lead the country to a breaking point and it is now time to act.