Understanding the health policy formulation process over the years has focused on the content of policy to the neglect of context. This had led to several policy initiatives having a still birth or ineffective policy choices with sub-optimal outcomes when implemented. Sometimes, the difficulty has been finding congruence between different values and interests of the various stakeholders. How can policy initiators leverage the various subtle mechanisms that various players draw on to leverage their interests during policy formulation. This paper attempts to conceptualise these levers of policy formulation to enhance an understanding of this field of work based on lived experience.
This is a qualitative participant observation case study based on retrospective recollection of the policy process and political levers involved in developing the Ghana National Health Insurance Scheme. The study uses a four-concept framework which is agenda setting, symbols manipulation, constituency preservation and coalition building to capture the various issues, negotiations and nuanced approaches used in arriving at desired outcomes.
Technical experts, civil society, academicians and politicians all had significant influence on setting the health insurance agenda. Each of these various stakeholders carefully engaged in ways that preserved their constituency interests through explicit manoeuvres and subtle engagements. Where proposals lend themselves to various interpretations, stakeholders were quick to latch on the contentious issues to preserve their constituency and will manipulate the symbols that arise from the proposals to their advantage. Where interests are contested and the price of losing out will leave government worse off which will favour its political opponent, it will push for divergent interests outside parliamentary politics through intense negotiations to build coalitions so a particular policy may pass.
This paper has examined the policy environment and the political leverages in retrospect at arriving at Ghana’s health insurance policy and design. New perspectives have been brought to the dynamics of the interactions of the 3 streams of problem, policy and politics. It provides lessons which suggest that in understanding the policy process, it is important that actors engage with the content as well as the context to understand viewpoints that may be expressed by interest groups. This will empower policy proponents to achieve easier results and limit the frustrations associated with the policy process. There are no straight and determined pathways for achieving outcomes so appreciating the evidence and basis for design, negotiation process and building coalitions along the way are skills to be mastered.