20 September 2012

Namibia: Doctors Take On Medical Aid Funds

THE decision by all medical funds not to pay for injections and immunisations administered in doctors' consulting rooms have angered medical professionals who say this will push up the prices of medical costs and make medical care less accessible.

In a terse statement the Medical Association of Namibia (MAN) said this drastic decision is because injections and immunisations are not considered as "emergency medication".

Doctors said the practical implications of this is that only chemists and doctors with dispensing licences can henceforth administer injections and immunisations that medical funds will pay for.

Susan de Beer of the Okahandja Medical Practice said it also means that those patients who cannot pay for potentially lifesaving injections would have to be admitted to hospital to receive them.

"Can you imagine what this would do to patients' medical aids?" she said.

De Beer said doctors would now first have to get an authorisation number from medical aid funds before they can administer emergency injections.

"In other words, a doctor with seven years of training and years of experience now needs permission from a clerk behind a desk to do his work!" she added with indignation.

"This is entirely a self-serving exercise," a source said, arguing that medicines will become less accessible, and consequently more expensive.

The MAN directive has the medical fraternity in a panic as many say this completely clouds the little certainty left to medical practitioners' right to treat their patients.

"With some funds now unilaterally and contradictory to the relevant legislation starting to choose what medicines will not be paid for without open and proper communication to that regard, doctors are not at liberty to treat their patients as is their prerogative and in fact their duty," said the Namibia Private Practitioners' Forum (NPPF).

The NPPF said the Namibia Medicines Regulatory Council (NMRC) distanced itself from this matter when it stated that it had nothing to do with the decision by the medical aid funds.

But the NPPF is taking the fight to the NMRC in an impending court challenge that questions the constitutionality of a law on the dispensing of medicines.

In accordance with the relevant law, dispensing in relation to medicine means to prepare, count out (or measure or decant from a bulk supply), mix, dissolve, or dispense and dispose of medicines.

"Emergency medicine" in law is defined as medicine needed for immediate relief of a symptom or needed for procedures in practice, but does not include medicine for a patient to take away.

The NPPF argues that no licence should thus be required for the dispensing of emergency medicines.

The forum has requested medical aid funds to provide them with their policies on injections and immunisations with "extreme urgency", and more specifically, a list of medicines the funds will not pay for.

Medical funds have not yet responded to this request.

"All parties responsible for prohibiting doctors to administer medicines to their patients will be held responsible for any special and general damages suffered by both doctors and patients," warned the NPPF.

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