NHI heading to court – with many more legal challenges to come

 ·14 Jun 2023

Trade union Solidarity has responded to passing the National Healthcare Insurance (NHI) bill in parliament by announcing its plans to take the government to court.

On Tuesday (13 June), the National Assembly approved the controversial bill, despite many critics – including business leaders, economists, and Parliament’s legal advisors – arguing that the plan is unsustainable and fraught with legal hurdles.

Although taking one step closer to becoming a reality, the bill still needs to be passed onto the National Council of Provinces. If given the nod there, it will be referred to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who will have the final say as to whether or not it should be signed into law.

According to Solidarity, it is already getting ready for a major court case against the government’s plans for NHI – adding that its comments on the proposed law already took the form of legal documents, and it has instructed its legal team to prepare for a court case.

“We realised from the outset that the NHI would probably be tested in court. The government’s plans to capture healthcare are unaffordable and unimplementable. It will lead to a mass exodus of health practitioners from the country,” Solidarity Chief Executive Dr Dirk Hermann said.

Solidarity has participated in all the public participation processes and has already achieved several victories against the NHI in court.

The Solidarity Research Institute (SRI) has also undertaken comprehensive research in the medical sector, showing that the NHI’s adoption and implementation will lead to a massive exodus of medical professionals from the country. 

“The government has already failed with the public healthcare system, and it now wants to fail on an even bigger scale,” Hermann said.

“It has a history of failure regarding state enterprises, and there is no reason to believe the proposed NHI would not be to the severe detriment of South Africans.

“We cannot trust the government, and we cannot deliver our medical professionals to them and trust our health to their hand. This is going to be a major court battle,” Hermann added. 

The Department of Health has previously stated that it anticipates an “onslaught” of legal challenges against the NHI.

In December 2022, minister Joe Phaahla said the NHI had already been targetted by opposition groups.

“There are already challenges, just in terms of the implementation of our structure of preparing for the NHI in the department. We are already in court.

“Once the bill is passed in Parliament, there will be a slew of litigations,” he said.

No need to panic over the NHI bill

According to the CEO of Discovery Health, Ryan Noach, the belief that the NHI bill, which aims to provide universal public healthcare, would decimate private healthcare is a panicked reaction.

He said there is still a long way to go until it affects private medical aid schemes.

“Section 33 talks about the full implementation of the NHI before any impact on medical schemes, and according to the department, there are still 10 to 15 years before the NHI will be effectively introduced,” he said.

Noach also noted that it would take immense amounts of sophistication and funding before the bill is implemented efficiently in a way that could support roughly 60 million people’s healthcare.

“It’s a long time before it is a reality,” said Noach. “At this stage, there is no need to panic.”

Read: NHI bill passed by the National Assembly in South Africa

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