Inmates, refugees, permanent residents and all children in South Africa will all have access to National Health Insurance (NHI), according to the bill that was introduced to Parliament on Thursday.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said the introduction of the NHI Bill in the National Assembly brought the country one step closer to fulfilling a constitutional obligation - to provide quality universal healthcare for all.
According to the bill, NHI which will be funded by and large by taxpayers, will also be a service provided to a number of non-South African citizens.
This may include individual foreigners determined by the minister of home affairs, after consultation with the minister and the minister of finance, by notice in the Gazette, the bill states.
"The NHI will benefit all South African citizens, permanent residents, refugees, inmates, designated foreign nationals and all children. So long as the system is accessed at the appropriate level of entry and the correct referral pathway is followed, services will be free at the point of care," Mkhize said.
An asylum seeker or illegal foreigner is only entitled to emergency medical services and services for notifiable conditions of public health concern, such as HIV or TB.
Meanwhile, all children - including children of asylum seekers or illegal migrants - are entitled to basic healthcare services as provided for in Section 28(1)(c) of the Constitution.
With the introduction of NHI, a foreigner visiting South Africa must have travel insurance to receive healthcare services under their relevant travel insurance contract of policy.
"The objective of the NHI is to achieve universal access to quality healthcare services in the republic, in accordance with Section 27 of the Constitution, through the establishment of the NHI Fund," Mkhize said.
"It is based on the principle of social solidarity where we will look after each other in times of medical need. The comprehensive healthcare services the NHI will provide are bound by the philosophy of [a] holistic approach to healthcare, spanning from preventative strategies all the way to convalescent and palliative care."
The minister explained that the healthcare system had operated in an unsustainable and unjust manner for far too long.
"The public healthcare system shoulders the lion's share of disease burden in this country, looking after 84% of our population with less resources than the private health system that services only 16% of the population."
The NHI seeks to optimise the available resources by pooling existing public funds and engaging the entire quantum of the sector so that in the end, there is a single purchaser of healthcare services, Mkhize added.