New board to keep medical costs downBy: JAN POOLMAN
A STATUTORY and comprehensive medical control board is to be introduced to replace the Namibian Association of Medical Aid Funds (NAMAF).
The move is aimed at making medical services more accessible and affordable to Namibians.
This means that NAMAF will become irrelevant and that the new board will report to the Ministry of Health and Social Services.
Finance Deputy Minister Calle Schlettwein told The Namibian that it became evident when finalising the Financial Institutions and Markets Bill that NAMAF does not perform any financial regulation and supervision and therefore it should be removed from the financial regulation and supervision laws.
“This regulation of individual medical aid funds is entrusted to the Namibia Financial Institutions Supervisory Authority (Namfisa) and NAMAF also does not have a specific mandate that it carries out on behalf of the government.”
He said the only function that NAMAF has that comes close to the public interest is its tariffs, or reference rates, which are determined by medical aid funds. These rates set the maximum prices that medical aid funds pay to medical service providers on behalf of their members.
“Keep in mind that the NAMAF Board of Directors consists of representatives of medical aid funds, with no representation by the Ministry of Health or any other independent stakeholder or medical practitioners. Due to this unilateral determination of the rates members have to top up medical costs from their own pocket, especially for services provided by specialists,” said Schlettwein.
He added that health and medical services are of national importance, and that there is no structure in Namibia that looks at the cost of medical services offered to citizens, including those without medical aid.
“The introduction of the control board is not to set prices for medical and health services but to ensure that these services are affordable and accessible to the public,” said Schlettwein.
The former CEO of Namfisa, Frans van Rensburg, said the Medical Aid Funds Act was drafted by the Ministry of Health and promulgated in 1995.
He said the ministry, at that time, did not have the capacity to regulate and oversee the industry, and therefore delegated the regulatory function to NAMAF.
“NAMAF was therefore since 1995 a self-regulatory authority and in the late 1990s, Cabinet took a decision to transfer this function to the Ministry of Finance and in 2001 to Namfisa under the supervision of Finance. For me, it makes a lot of sense to abolish the regulatory powers of NAMAF. It is not very sensible to be a referee and a player at the same time. It would be in the interest of the investing public to bring that regulatory function back to where it belongs, namely at NAMFISA,” Van Rensburg told The Namibian.