There is joy in the air in the Upper East region— one rooted in anticipated relief— following an announcement by the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) that subscribers throughout the country can from December 19, 2018, renew their membership through mobile phones.
Residents, who have endured years of acute distress renewing their membership cards, are celebrating the convenient climax, with some showering praises freely on the NHIA for the innovation and some remarking that the new policy is as long overdue as sending a success card to an anxious candidate when a tough examination is over.
All that is needed, according to the Authority, is for renewal-seeking members on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to dial this short code *929# from any brand of cell phone and follow a menu similar to what usually pops up when paying bills or doing withdrawal or transfer of money through a mobile phone.
Officials of the NHIA announced this Tuesday in the regional capital, Bolgatanga, when they engaged stakeholders in a meeting aimed at sensitising them on the new mobile membership renewal policy which is expected to ease burden on the Authority and pressure on subscribers at the 165 NHIS offices across the country.
“Our members are having to wait long queues at all our district offices. We want to reduce the transportation costs that our members would typically pay when they have to sit in a transport from home to that district office or from the provider end to district office back to provider end. You see the crowds, huge people, who sometimes [queue]from dawn just waiting to renew a card. It’s the 21st century. Why should we continue to make our members suffer this way?
“We have realised that it costs about 5 cedis to 7 cedis on average per member per visit to NHIS offices. We want to take away this stress. We want our members to renew the policies from the comfort of their homes or wherever [they]find [themselves]without having to queue at any district office,” Deputy Director of Corporate Affairs at the NHIA, Oswald Essuah-Mensah, said.
He added: “Per our processes, we have to buy a lot of ID cards, a lot of ribbons, toners, printers. Think about the wear and tear of the printers. It’s a huge cost and a bottleneck for the scheme. And if we are to achieve a hundred-percent Universal Health Coverage (UHC), certainly we cannot continue doing business the way we are doing it now. That is the main reason why we have to innovate.”
Akufo-Addo to Launch Policy December 19
Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, is expected to launch a national roll-out of the mobile membership renewal policy on Wednesday December 19, this year, in the national capital, Accra, after a successful piloting of the programme in the Asuogyaman District in the Eastern region and the West Mamprusi District in the Northern region.
“This is a good innovation,” a nursing mother, Laurecia Adongo, told Starr News whilst waiting it out with her baby on a harmattan-cold Tuesday night to, like the countless subscribers spotted in a queue at the NHIS office in Bolgatanga, renew her daughter’s membership card.
“But it is long overdue. We are only a bit lucky the health insurance staff in Bolga office are good and they know how to handle pressure; otherwise, the distress could have been more severe on everyone. This policy should have been introduced long ago to have avoided the needless pains people had to go through in the past.
“It’s difficult to understand the irony where subscribers who visit a health insurance office because they want to access healthcare rather leave the premises with severe cold and malaria from mosquito bites from the same health insurance premises after enduring long queues,” she added.
“Renewing your membership on mobile phone,” said another subscriber in Bolgatanga, Romeo Asampana, “is a perfect idea.”
“How can you leave your work, maybe you are a government worker or you have your own business, and be here because you want to renew? Some have spent about three days here and are yet to renew their cards. Even if they charge a small fee for me to renew my membership via mobile phone at home, I would prefer that one to coming here. Just take a look at how people are prepared to stay several nights here with babies in the midst of mosquitoes and cold just to renew their cards,” Mr. Asampana raved.
NHIA to Prosecute Cases of Fraudulent Claims
The stakeholders sensitisation meeting also saw the Authority announce plans to prosecute some cases of fraudulent claims made by some providers.
“We want to [use]the bad nuts in the system as scapegoats to be a deterrent against other providers who have appetite to defraud the scheme. We have a lot of people submitting claims to health insurance that are unjustifiable. We have appealed to the Attorney-General’s Department, asking them to grant us fiat. Once we receive that fiat, it allows NHIS to prosecute its own cases in court and not to rely on Attorney-General’s Department to do so for us anymore.
“We have typical cases that have been running through the courts for four, five, six years and the outcomes are nothing to write home about. So, we want to take this seriously. We have applied. They have agreed in principle to grant us that fiat. We’ve recruited five lawyers. They’ve all been trained by Attorney-General’s Department and are ready to start prosecuting cases as soon as we get that fiat granted,” revealed Mr. Essuah-Mensah.
The NHIA Director of Membership and Regional Operations, Ben Kusi, announced cyber security measures had been put in place to protect subscribers from criminal elements who might want to defraud them through the mobile membership renewal system.
“We have on our database about 18 million members who at some point have registered; but not all of them are active. This innovation is going to help us to get more people to be active on the National Health Insurance Scheme, so that when they fall sick they would not suffer the consequences of paying a lot of money.
“We are also introducing a system at the [health]facilities, also the same mobile platform. They will be able to check if you (patients) are active or not [on the NHIS). If you are active, they will proceed and they will generate what we call Clean Check Code— CCC— and they will put that code on their claim when they submit a claim to us,” stated the Director.