The introduction of free medical cover for the elderly a few years ago was a major milestone in social protection. Targeting those 70 years and above, the programme aims at cushioning the senior citizens, enabling them to access reasonably good medical care without worries about cost at a time when most of them are weak and live on diminished resources.
Managed through the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), Inua Jamii is bankrolled by the government under its pillar of social protection, where the elderly not only access free medical care, but also receive a monthly stipend for upkeep. Old people are an important segment of the society and have rights that must be enforced, hence capitation to support them.
However, it now transpires that the medical cover has run into headwinds. The government has not been remitting money to NHIF and, in turn, the corporation has not been paying medical bills to hospitals, forcing the facilities to stop treating the beneficiaries. This is a serious anomaly that must be dealt with urgently.
What bothers the elderly most is ill health and, consequently, medication. Much resources are required to keep them in good health, including proper nutrition. Yet it is no longer feasible for them to get support from their families; not when the economy is tanking and poverty levels rising. Young people, who ordinarily would be expected to take care of their parents and grandparents in old age, are struggling due to unemployment and rising cost of living. Governmental intervention is, therefore, paramount.
Conceptually, the support programme can be achieved through proper planning and resourcing. The numbers involved are not so big as to be unmanageable. Statistics indicate that some 520,000 elderly persons have been listed for the programme. In the broader scheme of things, the requisite allocation to the group is insignificant. The government allocates Sh500 per person annually for medical care — quite a modest sum.
The programme is part of the universal health coverage that the Jubilee administration has committed to pursue under its ‘Big Four Agenda’. It is a right that the State is obligated to actualise. It is thus inexcusable that financial allocation for medical care is delaying amid the government’s commitment to health for all.
The government has to quickly release the funds for the seniors’ medical care and ensure Inua Jamii does not collapse and ruin the lives of those in their sunset years. Structures and processes for managing the funds should be streamlined to guarantee efficiency.