Health insurance hedges against poverty

Ipec Commissioner Dr Grace Muradzikwa

by NORMA TSOPO

*Booker Mlambo – a retired young soldier, left his family in deep financial distress. Without medical insurance, his illness forced the sell-off of his silver Toyota Wish, six goats and three cattle.

Even then, he lost the battle in mid-August.

“He left an incomplete house in his rural home and the capital assets he had acquired for his young family’s benefit went with him,” said his grieving widow who was left to raise three minor children, adding that there are still yet more outstanding debts to cover.

“It’s as if the mysterious disease that afflicted him wanted to make sure we are left with absolutely nothing.”

This scenario repeats itself in thousands of homes across the country.

Only seven percent of Zimbabweans have access to health insurance according to Zimbabwe Statistical Agency (Zimstat).

Labour and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (Ledriz) researcher and economist Prosper Chitambara observes that out of pocket health care costs are resultantly a major driver of poverty in Zimbabwe.

“High levels of poverty have a major factor in pushing people into poverty, Medical services in most poor countries constitute 40 percent of households’ expenditure.”  He said.

The respected economist posits that health care and social protection are the two biggest factors in driving worsening poverty levels in a country in which 30 percent are extremely poor and over 60 percent are considered moderately poor according to Zimstat.

According to World Health Organisation statistics government is only committing under US$30 per person per year leaving the populace to fund their own health care, in the process driving them into poverty.

It’s one of the lowest in the world in the same regions with poor war-torn countries like Eritrea and Somalia.

The Ledriz economist said the country could have been offering better health cover if it had been adhering to the Abuja declaration, for which it is a signatory, that demands that it commits at least 15 percent of the budget to healthcare.

Insurance and Pensions Commission (Ipec) commissioner of insurance, pensions and provident funds, Grace Muradzikwa during her address to journalists during the virtual launch of the Ipec and National Social Security Authority (NSSA) 2020 Insurance and Pensions Journalists Mentorship programme said health insurers were critical economic enablers as they hedged families from vagaries of disease and accidents.

The commissioner said this was also in line with sustainable development goal three on promoting good health and wellbeing.

“Through health insurance, medical aid schemes and workmanship compensation, households are protected from accident injuries, disability and high cost of medication,” Muradzikwa said.

She said the insurance sector aided the attainment of sustainable development goal one on ending poverty for all.

“Through social protection, insurance can offer safety net to vulnerable households not to fall into poverty,” she added.

Without the vital cover from private insurers Chitambara is challenging government to ease on pay as you earn and corporate tax which it says would leave employees with more disposable income and improve business competitiveness but increase sin taxes to fund social protection and health insurance.

“This model has worked in Asia… government will be able to mobilise additional resources and ease pressure on workers 90 percent of whom I estimate to be poor,” he said.

This has also been adopted by South Africa which introduced a 20 percent sugar tax in 2017 to finance a National Health Insurance Scheme. Currently it is spending an average of US$400 per person per year.

Mlambo’s widow and children are already looking up to charitable organisations for their welfare. “We lost everything from my husband and breadwinner to everything he had hoped we would survive off as a family.”

*name changed to protect the privacy of the family.

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