health
A medical technician draws a blood sample to screen for glucose and cholesterol at a free health screening as part of the National Urban League's Economic Empowerment Tour in Dallas, Texas June 13, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

South Africa’s Parliament on Tuesday denied that the National Health Insurance (NHI) bill has been suspended due to growing criticism.

Reports that the bill has been suspended “are false and untrue,” Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health said.

Committee Chairperson Sibongiseni Dhlomo said he was alarmed at a letter circulating in the public domain which indicates that the committee had suspended the deliberating process, pending advice from the Office of the State Attorney on the constitutionality of the bill.

The letter reportedly was circulated by Neil Kirby, who is claiming to represent a firm of attorneys.

Kirby “is not known to the Department of Health, nor is he representing the committee,” said Dhlomo.

Reports on the suspension of the NHI bill process “are fake news,” he said.

“We want to distance ourselves from those utterances and want to reassure the public that the process of the NHI bill has been tabled in the National Assembly,” said Dhlomo.

The NHI bill, submitted to Parliament by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize earlier this month, envisages a package of comprehensive health services for free at private and public health facilities as part of the government’s bid to provide more equitable access to quality healthcare.

The landmark bill will benefit all South African citizens, permanent residents, refugees, inmates, designated foreign nationals and all children.

But critics say the financing model of this bill will mean the imposition of a new tax on ordinary South Africans who have already been squeezed dry by the government and cannot be subjected to yet another tax.

Several political parties and numerous bodies, including the South African Private Practitioners’ Forum, voiced skepticism about the bill, calling it unrealistic, too expensive, and would potentially damage the healthcare sector, particularly when the country is facing a financial crisis.

Dhlomo said last week that his committee was seeking urgent legal advice from the Office of the State Attorney on the constitutionality of the NHI bill.

Before starting deliberating the bill, it will be important to address concerns raised by various people, including those who think they will find space to challenge the constitutionality of the bill, Dhlomo said then.

But Dhlomo said on Tuesday that parliamentary processes will begin, which will include a public consultation process following a presentation on the bill from Mkhize on August 29.

“We will announce shortly the various areas and provinces in which the public hearings will take place, but we are still consulting on this,” said Dhlomo.

Dhlomo said he has met one of the state law advisors on this matter and is comfortable with the advice.

All official committee statements, including statements on the NHI bill, are only released by the chairperson, he said. Enditem

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