EIPR Welcomes Withdrawal of Flawed Health Insurance Bill, and Asks Minister of Health to Submit a New Bill to the Public to Remedy the Failure of the Latest Bill

Press Release

24 March 2010

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights today welcomed the government’s withdrawal of its flawed health insurance bill and its decision to postpone submission of the bill to the next parliamentary session. The bill aims to provide universal insurance coverage but does so in name only, without achieving real, and just universal coverage. The EIPR, in conjunction with the Committee to Defend the Right to Health, published an analysis of the bill in December that discussed the many flaws in the proposal. The official Middle East News Agency reported yesterday, 23 March, that Minister of Health Hatem al-Gabali had postponed the bill to allow for “further discussion [of the bill] and to ensure the necessary funding.”

“We hope that the Minister of Health will quickly submit a new bill to develop and reform the current health insurance system. We also hope the next bill will avoid the serious flaws that marred this one and at the same time fulfill the promise the President made in his 2005 campaign to extend health insurance to the nearly half of all Egyptians currently without it," said Dr. Alaa Ghanaam,  director of the EIPR’s Right to Health Program. "Under no circumstance should extending insurance coverage come at the expense of citizens, either by saddling them with costs they can’t afford or reducing the basket of services offered or illnesses covered,” Dr. Ghanaam added.

The EIPR also reiterated its call to the government to release the full text of any new bill so that it can be openly and exhaustively discussed before being submitted to the legislature and to involve all stakeholders in the debate. The government should refrain from conducting the discussion in virtual secrecy, as the Ministry of Health did with the latest bill which it never released to the public. The bill was instead leaked to al-Masry al-Youm in October 2009.

The EIPR further stressed that any new bill must be vetted and approved in full by the legislature; the executive should not have the freedom to determine basic matters such as the services to be insured or the premiums that citizens will pay. The EIPR also repeated its long-standing demand that public health expenditure be raised to an adequate level of no less than 10 percent of the state budget.

“We hope the government has finally realized that it is impossible to reform the health system in Egypt in light of the meager state contribution to health care, which currently equals no more than 5 percent of government expenditure,” Dr. Ghannam said. “If the government is serious about its desire to uphold citizens’ right to health, as is mandated by the Egyptian Constitution and international human rights conventions, it has the opportunity to prove it when the state budget comes up for parliamentary debate in the next few days.”