President Ramaphosa Signs Universal Health Law Despite Pushback

Cyril Ramaphosa shows the signed bill for National Health Insurance signed into law in Pretoria, South Africa on May 15.

President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a new law aimed at providing universal healthcare two weeks before the general election, despite opposition and business groups’ objections.

“The National Health Insurance (NHI) aims to eliminate long-standing inequities. “Who receives adequate healthcare and who is neglected?” Ramaphosa remarked during a televised signing ceremony in Pretoria.

The fund established by the bill will provide healthcare to everybody at government-determined rates in one of the world’s most unequal countries.

However, it could take years to implement the system throughout the country.

South African MPs approved the contentious new law in June last year, following years of debate and deliberation.

“The provision of healthcare in this country is currently fragmented, it is unsuitable and it is wholly unacceptable,” Ramaphosa stated.

The president lambasted the opposition’s criticism of the new law, insisting that South Africa was following a global commitment.

“Those who are trying to hold us back… are completely out of line,” he stated.

South Africa inherited 14 health systems from the apartheid era.

A unified system limped along after 1994, spawning a parallel economy of private but expensive quality care, which the state claims is unjust and unsustainable.

According to government data, just eight million of South Africa’s 62 million people have access to private medical care in 2022, leaving the rest completely reliant on the government.

The president stated that the fund would address the load on the public healthcare system as well as the unaffordability of the private sector.

However, opposition parties have slammed the proposal by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which faces losing its outright majority in the May 29 general elections for the first time since South Africa’s democratic transition 30 years ago.

They claim it risks collapsing the healthcare system and have raised concerns about the timing of the ratification.

The ANC is “willing to sacrifice the country’s entire healthcare system to remain in power for another term,” according to the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus), a small right-wing and primarily white Afrikaner party.

The Democratic Alliance, the second largest opposition party that has often criticized the law, planned to hold a news conference outside the Union Buildings where the signing will take place.

The government has also stated that the NHI will improve health outcomes, prevent unnecessary deaths, and alleviate poverty.

“The rising cost of healthcare makes families poorer,” Ramaphosa stated.

The National Hunger Initiative “will free up resources in poor families for other essential needs and through this, we will be able to reduce poverty.”

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