Uganda: Workers Protest Compulsory Health Insurance Scheme

Kampala — Workers in the formal sector have vowed to block the new National Health Insurance Scheme Bill 2019 that was approved by Cabinet on Monday, saying they are already burdened with a number of taxes they are paying to the government.

According to the Bill, every employee above 18 years is supposed to contribute four per cent of their monthly salary towards the scheme, while the employer will contribute one per cent, making five per cent.

However, the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) chairman general, Mr Usher Wilson Owere, has said the Bill overburdens workers in the formal sector who are already burdened with others taxes such as Pay as You Earn, Local Service tax and National Social Security Fund monthly saving contribution.

To block the Bill

He said they are going to work "tooth and nail" to block this Bill once it is tabled before Parliament.

"This is unfair to a worker who is already paying a lot of taxes to this government. We were able to block this Bill when it was brought up, and we are going to use the same mechanism to ensure that it does not go through," Mr Uwere said in an interview with Daily Monitor yesterday.

He added that if government wants to impose another tax on them, it should also increase the salaries of all public servants across the country.

"If the government wants us to contribute for the poor peasants, then it should also increase our salaries," Mr Owere said.

He instead proposed a monthly deduction of two per cent instead of four per cent.

Workers MP Sam Lyomoki said government should not impose another tax on workers, but rather make the employers who have been initially paying health insurance for their workers to take up this four per cent.

"A worker should not incur another cost on his or her salary. We are going to harmonise this and shift the burden to the employer once the Bill is tabled before the House for discussions," Mr Lyomoki told Daily Monitor in a telephone interview yesterday.

However, Ms Grace Nabakooza, the head of legal department at the Federation of Uganda Employers, cautioned government against putting a lot of burden on the employer, saying they may be forced to cut on the employees' salaries in order to cater for their medical insurance contribution. She agreed with Mr Owere's proposal of two per cent contribution from the employees.

Private insurance providers speak out

Meanwhile, some private insurance companies that are currently offering services to some employees in the formal sector have opposed the Bill, saying it is going to drive them out of business.

The commissioner in charge of planning and financial policy at the Ministry of Health, Ms Sarah Byakika, on Tuesday said all individuals subscribing to private insurers will have to drop this scheme and adopt the new scheme once it is enacted into law.

She said private companies would only come in to offer service which will not be covered under the government arrangement.

The assistant general manager of the medical department at Jubilee Insurance, Mr Dan Musiime, said they are going to lose their customers since it will be hard for individuals to contribute to both private and national schemes.

"The government should rather opt to exempt those already under private health insurers from contributing to the national health insurance scheme or else, we become obvious culprits," Mr Musiime said.

He added: "They should have engaged us more. We should work together with government in this initiative as opposed to them being on one side and us on the other because the objective is the same, trying to extend access to health care to people so we should work together."

However, Mr Herbert Mukoza the general manager International Air Ambulance (IAA) insurance, said the national health insurance scheme will not affect them since they will provide comprehensive services.

"It is going to supplement because government is proposing to give basic care, but private insurers offer more comprehensive services. In other countries, there are national health insurance schemes and private ones. So we are excited about it," Mr Mukoza said.

Mr Joshua Akena, the head of life and pensions at Uganda Insurers Association, said the national health insurance scheme is going to promote universal health coverage.

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