Uganda is proposing introduction of the National Health Insurance scheme (NHIS) in a phased manner with the view to obtaining additional funding for the health sector and promoting financial risk protection. In this paper, we have assessed the proposed NHIS from an equity perspective, exploring the extent to which NHIS would improve existing disparities in the health sector.
We reviewed the proposed design and other relevant documents that enhanced our understanding of contextual issues. We used the Kutzin and fair financing frameworks to critically assess the impact of NHIS on overall equity in financing in Uganda.
The introduction of NHIS is being proposed against the backdrop of inequalities in the distribution of health system inputs between rural and urban areas, different levels of care and geographic areas. In this assessment, we find that gradual implementation of NHIS will result in low coverage initially, which might pose a challenge for effective management of the scheme. The process for accreditation of service providers during the first phase is not explicit on how it will ensure that a two-tier service provision arrangement does not emerge to cater for different types of patients. If the proposed fee-for-service mechanism of reimbursing providers is pursued, utilisation patterns will determine how resources are allocated. This implies that equity in resource allocation will be determined by the distribution of accredited providers, and checks put in place to prohibit frivolous use. The current design does not explicitly mention how these two issues will be tackled. Lastly, there is no clarity on how the NHIS will fit into, and integrate within existing financing mechanisms.
Under the current NHIS design, the initial low coverage in the first years will inhibit optimal achievement of the important equity characteristics of pooling, cross-subsidisation and financial protection. Depending on the distribution of accredited providers and utilisation patterns, the NHIS could worsen existing disparities in access to services, given the fee-for-service reimbursement mechanisms currently proposed. Lastly, if equity in financing and resource allocation are not explicit objectives of the NHIS, it might inadvertently worsen the existing disparities in service provision.