Last month, the president of the Health Professions Council of South Africa, Dr Kgosi Letlape, described medical aid schemes as “a crime against humanity” and suggested they should be abolished as they cannot co-exist with the government’s proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme.
Letlape was speaking to academics and medical professionals during a public discussion at the University of KwaZulu-Natal on whether the NHI white paper meets the human rights objectives of the Constitution.
He said private medical aids and the Medical Schemes Act would have to be abolished if the NHI is to provide universal health care access for all citizens.
|Dr Kgosi Letlape|
“With half of South Africa’s health professionals catering exclusively to only 17% of the population on medical aid schemes, the entire setup is a crime against humanity and should be abolished,” he declared.
He went on to note that the privileged few who have access to medical aid – including those in government who are subscribed to it – refuse to engage, saying “hands off my medical aid”.
But, he argued, universal healthcare in South Africa is possible.
“The health plan under apartheid was one of the best in the world. South African whites had health for all. By 1967 they had a system that could give somebody a heart transplant for no payment. At the point of service, there were no deductibles, the doctor was on a salary, and everyone could access health care,” he was quoted saying.
However, with the introduction of the Medical Schemes Act, most medical professionals moved over to the private sector, which only caters to an “elite” 17% of the population. This meant most of the South African population have been left without quality health care and are unable to realise their constitutional rights. This was a crime against humanity, Letlape said.
Democratic Alliance Health spokesman Dr Wilmot James said in response: “No mature, sensible leader would ever dare utter such populist, reckless nonsense that medical aid, which takes care of the health of 20% of our population, amounts to genocide… it is particularly rich coming from the head of the HPCSA, an institution that UCT’s Head of Health Sciences, Dr Bongani Mayosi, found to be so shockingly dysfunctional that he recommended it be rebuilt from the ground up.
“What we should be doing is expanding medical aid and health insurance to cover more and more people. As we outline in the DA’s ‘Our Health Plan,’ we should reform both the private and the public sectors to provide the same basic package of health services, making the former more competitive and cheaper and the latter more accessible and significantly better.”
In early 2009, Letlape resigned abruptly as head of the SA Medical Association, (Sama) the country’s professional body for medical practitioners. His opposition to private medical insurance was one of the factors behind the vote of no-confidence that led to his resignation.
He had led Sama since 2001 and was well-known for his strong position against medical schemes, announcing in 2008 at a Sama conference that he had given up his medical scheme membership and urging others to do the same.
His declared bias caused members of Sama to be concerned about his ability to represent all doctors fairly.
His performance at the Health Professions Council of SA has been as controversial, if for different reasons.
In November 2015, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi made public a scathing report which found the council was “in a state of multi-system organisational dysfunction” and that its management was “unfit”.
The report came out of a high-level investigation headed by UCT’s Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, Professor Bongani Mayosi. It revealed evidence of administrative irregularities, mismanagement and poor governance at the council.
Motsoaledi promised major changes to the body, but last year doctors complained that these had not been implemented.
The council has been plagued with complaints since it was set up in 1997 – and Letlape does not seem to have made much difference.
♦ In early February this year a 26-year-old man, Tebogo Letlape, was booked into the Melomed Gatesville Private Hospital in Athlone, Cape Town for an orthopaedic procedure. On his admission form, his home address is given as 97 Jan Smuts Avenue, Saxonwold, Johannesburg – which happens also to be Dr Kgosi Letlape’s home address. Could it be that, like most parents, when it comes to his own family, the revolutionary anti-private-health-care activist wants only the best available… and believes that medical treatment is to be found at a private hospital – not even at one of Cape Town’s more famous and celebrated public hospitals such as Groote Schuur or Tygerberg?
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