Reports that the National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill has been suspended pending legal advice are false and untrue, portfolio committee on health chairperson Sibongiseni Dhlomo said on Tuesday.
Dhlomo expressed his alarm about a letter circulating in the public domain that indicated the committee had suspended the process, pending advice from the state legal adviser on the constitutionality of the bill.
“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. The speaker [Thandi Modise] has presented and referred it to the committee,” Dhlomo said, according to a statement.
Two weeks ago, DA leader Mmusi Maimane questioned the constitutionality of the bill. He wrote to Modise to urgently request that she instruct the parliamentary legal services to obtain a legal opinion on the bill before it appeared before the committee. He also asked the DA’s legal team for an opinion on whether it was constitutional.
The party is questioning its constitutionality as it will seemingly take away the provinces’ constitutionally enshrined right to handle health services.
At the time, Dhlomo said as the committee started its work on the bill, it would be important to get a presentation from the state attorney on legal advice given to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on its constitutionality.
On Thursday, Mkhize will brief the committee on the bill. Thereafter, the parliamentary process will begin, which will include a public consultation process.
“We will shortly announce the various areas and provinces where the public hearings will take place, but we are still consulting on this,” Dhlomo said in Tuesday’s statement.
According to him, the department had indicated a lot of consultation with legal advisers had taken place during the bill’s drafting.
“I have met one of the state law advisers on this matter and I am comfortable with the advice. Reports on the suspension of the NHI process are fake news,” Dhlomo said.
Under the NHI, the government will provide a package of comprehensive health services for free at private and public health facilities as part of its bid to provide more equitable access to quality health care.
It is expected this will only be implemented in full by 2026.
Since the introduction of the bill to parliament earlier this month, the DA has voiced vociferous objections to it, as have some sectors of civil society, while others have expressed their support.