Egypt MPs will begin discussing a government-drafted law on national health insurance in a plenary session Sunday, with the health minister saying a "a long-held dream is becoming a reality".
The discussion comes after parliament's Health Affairs Committee approved the draft law 9 December.
Minister of Health Ahmed Emadeddin told the committee that "the long-term dream of a national health insurance system in Egypt is becoming a reality."
"If parliament approves the 70-article law before the end of the year, a comprehensive health insurance system could be in place within six months," he added.
According to Emadeddin, funding will not be a problem "as resources are available to ensure the system delivers quality medical and health services, particularly to the poor and limited-income classes."
Committee head Mohamed El-Emary told reporters that the discussion of the draft law took more than one month.
"Ministers of health and finance, and head of the general organisation of health insurance were all keen to attend the discussion in order to answer committee members' questions," said El-Emary.
"In line with the constitution, the committee also canvassed the views of civil society organisations, representatives of syndicates of doctors, pharmacists, dentistry, and physiotherapy, and private health service providers."
El-Emary, however, said a final draft will be ready only after the plenary discussion, paving the way for "issuing a national health law, which has been discussed since 2002 though there has been insufficient political will to push it forwards."
Magdi Morshed, secretary-general of the pro-government "Support Egypt" parliamentary bloc, told reporters that he is confident that the draft will be finally approved by parliament by the end of this month. "A majority of MPs, the government, and President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi are keen to push forward with this law," said Morshed.
Morshed explained that the law includes some key points.
"The first is that membership of the national health insurance system will be compulsory. Besides, the system does not cover general health and medical areas like ambulances and birth control services."
Morshed also indicated that the implementation of the system will be gradual, beginning next year with the governorate of Port Said and continuing till 2032 by which time the entire country will be covered.
Port Said was chosen, said Emadeddin, because it has the lowest proportion of people below the poverty line of any governorate, lessening the initial financial burden on the government, and because its hospitals, clinics and other health services already meet the standards required by the national health insurance system.
Emadeddin also indicated that the system will not cover foreigners, and that hospitals affiliated with the army and police or owned by the private sector will only be allowed to participate in the system if they meet conditions stipulated in the law.
Under the draft legislation, three organisations — the Healthcare Organisation (HCO), the Quality and Authorisation Authority (QAA), and the Health Insurance Organisation (HIO) — will be responsible for implementing the new national health insurance system in Egypt.
The HCO will oversee the provision of health services, the QAA will monitor their quality, while the HIO will assume financial oversight.
Minister of Finance Amr El-Garhy told the Health Committee that revenue from last month's increase in tobacco prices, estimated at between LE7 billion and LE8 billion, will be earmarked to fund national health system services.
"Those who refuse to pay will be excluded from a range of indispensable government services. They will not be able to renew driving licenses or national identity cards and, should they want to travel will be obliged to pay any arrears before they are allowed to leave the country," said Emadeddin.
The draft law states that one percent of each government employee's salary will be deducted in health insurance payments, a figure the government will complete by paying an additional four percent. The government will also triple payments covering housewives, double those for widows and retirees, and match insurance fees for dependent children.
The Health Ministry reviewed several health insurance systems abroad. "The new national health insurance law is similar to that of the UK, though some changes were made to ensure it goes in line with the constitution," said Emadeddin.
Emadeddin said the new system will be radically different from the existing health coverage system.
"The current health insurance law has been in effect since 1964 and stipulates that coverage is restricted to seasonal workers and government employees while the new insurance covers all citizens, poor and rich."
The system will cover treatment of all kinds of illnesses and diseases, though ambulance and birth control services will be excluded. According to Emadeddin, it will also cover the cost of medical treatment abroad if such treatment is approved by a relevant specialised committee.