Major health crisis looms

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BY PHYLLIS MBANJE

A MAJOR health crisis is looming in the wake of an impasse between doctors affiliated to the Zimbabwe Medical Association (Zima) and the medical aid societies, who allegedly are not remitting payments from their clients.

The doctors, through their representative body Zima, announced that they would be demanding full payment of all outstanding dues.

None of the country’s health insurers were available to comment.

Patients will likely suffer the brunt of the standoff, which has no immediate solution.

Addressing a press conference in Harare yesterday, Zima secretary-general Sacrifice Chirisa (pictured) said while doctors had not been spared by the current turbulent economic environment, they continue to offer services.

“Of note, medical aid societies have not paid for these services in full and on time, with some having outstanding claims dating as far back as 2015,” he said.

Chirisa said this was despite the fact that the Association of Health Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) announced increases in tariffs twice in February and July this year, but none of its members had complied with this, although they increased their members contributions.

“Medical insurance firms are mushrooming everywhere collecting subscriptions upfront from our patients. They are top heavy and are using funds for non-member benefits (lavish lifestyles, top-of-the-range vehicles), resulting in members incurring huge shortfalls,” he said.

Chirisa claimed at times, they took payment in the form of graveyards.

“We were paid graves by a medical aid society, but without being paid our money. We have accepted that so that we can continue to offer services,” he said.

The association is now demanding that the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission carries out an audit on all medical aid societies for possible misappropriation
of funds.

“When the insurer becomes the service provider and directing patients to their own institutions, patient care outcomes deteriorate, long waiting times for
patients become common,” Chirisa said.

Singling out Premier Service Medical Aid Society, which allegedly owes them $60 million, Chirisa said the insurer had not paid for the past seven months and
has refused to increase tariffs as proposed and agreed by AHFoZ, to which they are a member.

“This leaves subscribers with the largest shortfalls,’ he said

The doctors said they continued to work under difficult conditions, with only 3 500 registered doctors servicing a population of over 15 million.

“Of this figure, 1 000 are specialist. Psychiatrists like me are only 15 for the whole country. We have been quiet, holding fort, but not anymore,” he said.

Zima said failure to honour their demands would lead them to consult with their membership on the way forward.

The doctors were also agitating for the finalisation and implementation of the medical aid societies Bill, which ensures comprehensive regulation of health
insurers.

“Medical aids are hardly monitored at all. An almost a billion-dollar industry with no regulator. We want the regulation bill to be finalised and implemented,”
Chirisa said.

Meanwhile, the doctors have also dismissed a document by the Anti-Corruption Trust of Southern Africa, which alleged that practitioners in Masvingo were
diverting medicines, referring patients to their private rooms, inflating prices and creating artificial shortages.

“It should be noted that the named doctors have since been cleared of all charges. Zima members pride themselves on the highest level of integrity,” Zima said

The doctors also described the situation in the health sector as dire and requiring concerted efforts.

Health minister Obadiah Moyo was not available for a comment, while the ministry’s permanent secretary Agnes Mahomva said she was in a meeting and asked

NewsDay to call after an hour, but her mobile phone was no longer reachable. Also, efforts to get a comment from AHFoz officials were futile, as they were
unreachable.

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