Hospital bills are sending Kenyans to their early graves

Something must be done urgently, otherwise, the issue of medical bills and the cost of health care in Kenyan is driving people nuts. We can’t afford those huge hospital bills please, we are just poor Kenyans surviving on less than a meal per day, and none for others. The more reason we are sick and visit hospitals frequently and the huge bills push us more to the grave, jointly with our families.  We know health professionals are paid not what they desired and the health sector has been neglected, but please it’s not the patients who are responsible.

Those who neglected the sector seek treatment abroad. Don’t return us to herbalists and witchdoctors again.  While we value and require your good professional services, your bills are traumatizing and driving us to early graves.

Obviously with the current state of public hospitals and seemingly focus on the private sector as the main driver of access to Universal Health Care in Kenya, against evidence to the contrary, the private health facilities occupy a central role in the provision of health. Even where a few people with chronic diseases and unable to purchase drugs locally because of the high cost try importing them, the process including postage requirements, the Kenya Medical and Dentists Board KRA and related procedures are too complex, sometimes you just give up- either the tax component and the release processes. Private health entities are competing financial institutions and detention facilities in holding title deeds and logbooks for unpaid hospital bills.  A number of people are detained in health facilities due to their inability to clear bills.

The prices on some medical tests, procedures and drugs must be regulated- including ranges given on the costs for ICUs and HDUs, dialysis among other standard procedures including nursing charges, laboratory tests and others.

The government must also publish tests that must be done abroad- especially in India and or South Africa and patients helped to know the average charges in those countries. It has now become fashionable that even procedural tests, the hospitals charge abnormal costs, in the pretext that they must be sent outside, and the results only come after two weeks.

So you stay in hospital waiting for tests for two weeks, and in many cases, the results are rarely made known to you. Averagely, you spend Sh200,000 to Sh300,000 daily on an ICU or HDU in private hospitals in Kenya, while routine tests like urine, blood sugar levels, kidney functioning cost Sh3000 in public hospitals, they will cost you Sh12,000 in private hospitals.

Sometimes, some of these medication prescribed have nothing to do with the tests earlier prescribed. And, the most misused but highly charged items are MRIs, Endoscopy and HIV and Hepatatis B tests. In some hospitals in addition to being over-tested and given excess drugs (in one hospital, I was given medication enough for three months but advised to stop using them after five days). The Cost of dialysis in a public facility cost an average of Sh6000 while in the private hospital, it ranges between Sh9000 to Sh12,000, less the monthly UECCs ( Urea, Electrolytes, Calcium, Potassium, sugar levels, HIV and Hepatitis B and Creatinine).

A lot has been written on private hospitals fleecing patients in Kenya, especially those covered by medical insurance schemes. For this reason, the cost of medical care even for those with medical insurance is out of reach for most Kenyans, though health is a basic right. With the confusion in the public health system currently marred with strikes, and lack of basic equipment, most Kenyans have opted for private medical cover.

The Ministry of Health and relevant professional bodies in the health and regulatory sector must treat this as a matter of national emergency, before wera are declared a sick nation. Both the patients and the caregivers are all sick, one from sickness and the other one from thinking about the hospital bill.  And the problem is not even the high cost of multiple tests and procedures, some of which are rarely referred to during diagnosis because one has a medical cover including that of the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF), the charges on some tests and or treatment is a just a rip off from Kenyans. Some of these hospitals killing us with bills are registered as non-profit making organizations, church institutions or welfare, and have some of their medical supplies imported tax-free or do some of the procedures jointly with volunteers from elsewhere, while others seat on land donated by the government or the community.

The continued neglect of the sector by those in charge of implementing the law is a violation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 (Article 43).  The true test of improved health and access to basic health care lies in investing and revamping the public health system by both the national and county governments. Leaving a public service entirely to the private sector will not be sufficient.

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