Nigerians may have to pay more for medical services soon as operators consider reflecting the impact of soaring energy costs on patients’ bills.
The scarcity of petrol and the abrupt rise in diesel cost has pushed up energy costs by more than 100 percent for most hospitals, diagnostics centres and ambulance services, paralysing operations in some cases, operators told BusinessDay.
Chances of offsetting the energy burden, according to them, are unfortunately slim as electricity supply from the national grid remains deplorable.
They said the cost of drugs, medical consumables and retaining health workers had equally gone up without government incentives or tariff offers from health maintenance organisations (HMOs) to cushion the effect.
Raymond Kuti, national president of Guild of Medical Directors, said spreading the cost implication implies an increase in the cost of consultations, drugs, treatment and medical investigations. It could drive people away from orthodox medical practice to quacks with cheaper offers.
Daily spending on diesel at his diagnostic centres for instance has moved from about N30, 000 to N80,000 in the past few days, running on a 60KV electricity generating set.
The outfit sees a range of 40 to 60 patients daily on average and requires power for at least 12 hours whether there are patients or not.
“The cost of running services has skyrocketed and it will definitely be transferred to patients sooner or later,” said Kuti.
“The PHCN has increased the tariffs by about 30 to 40 percent. Unfortunately, most patients pay out of pocket. The government needs to rollout a cushioning scheme before most businesses in the private sector collapse. Getting foreign exchange is difficult. Getting energy is difficult and then we are facing this diesel issue. That will be a big issue,” he said.
If the plan pulls through, the price hike of medical services would set Nigerians up for another bout of increase in out-of-pocket health expenses, with more than 90 percent of the population uncovered by the National Health Insurance Scheme to take the hardest hit.
Private out-of-pocket expenditure on health nudge at 77 percent as of 2018 while public expenditure stood at a staggering 15 percent and development assistance at 8 percent, data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation shows.
Adeyeye Arigbabuwo, national president of Health Care Providers Association of Nigeria, said beyond core treatment operations, services including emergency ambulance response, logistics and even kitchen services are also being affected.
It has placed a strain on the pricing and costing of healthcare delivery that it questions affordability in the context of patients already finding it difficult to survive the economy.
His hospital’s average spending on energy supply has jumped to N20,000 daily in two branches from N9,000, and is forced to buy at a costlier amount than average in order to save time.
“It is very difficult to reflect this on the patient’s bill because before the fuel scarcity saga, patients were facing difficulty under a monthly wage that is not increasing with the pace of rising costs. How will consumers be able to pay for the net increase in what you have done?” he said.
Julius Abimbola, vice-chairman, Guild of Medical Laboratory Directors said activities of members have increasingly been crippled on the persisting scarcity of petrol or diesel, a trend which will eventually impact patients’ bills.
Operators are consequently calling for urgent action to the challenge and possible introduction of incentives to help businesses stay afloat.
Kuti identified the COVID intervention funds released by the government over a year ago as a scheme that could have assisted hospitals and medical practices but most doctors in private practice could not access them.