‘Telecom tax’ not in health insurance Act Buhari signed

The National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA) Act 2022 does not include telecoms tax as part of the funding sources targeted in financing the Vulnerable Group Fund, a copy of the Act seen by BusinessDay has confirmed.

Contrary to the widespread view that the 2022 Act retains a telecommunication tax of not less than one kobo per second of GSM calls which was being considered by the National Assembly in the National Health Insurance Bill, the fund will now come from other sources. The fund is aimed at subsidising healthcare services for about 83 million poor Nigerians.

The sources for the fund include the Basic Health Care Fund to the National Health Insurance Authority, health insurance levy and Special Intervention Fund allocated by the government. It also includes grants, donations, gifts and other voluntary contributions.

Ibrahim Oloriegbe, chairman of Senate committee on health, had said the initial proposal of one kobo per second telecom tax to fund the vulnerable group fund was rejected and removed before it was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The president signed the bill into law last Thursday which repeals the National Health Insurance Scheme Act 2004.

Following the signing, the Act will be made available in the official gazette of Nigeria and thereafter launched officially by the NHIA.

Telecommunications companies had earlier feared that if the proposed bill had taken effect, it could pile a higher tax burden on operators who already see the operating environment as stifling and by extension affect users of their products.

The NHIA, in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Emmanuel Ononokpono, said: “In relation to the Act, the NHIA wishes to state clearly that the legislation that Mr President assented to does not make provision for a telecoms tax as a source of funding in the law contrary to hasty reports in some exuberant national media.”

It reiterated that the Act establishes and empowers the NHIA to ensure the provision of health insurance for all Nigerians through a mandatory mechanism, in collaboration with state health insurance agencies.

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The statement said: “Specifically, Sections 25 and 26 of the Act establish the Vulnerable Group Fund (VGF), indicating the various sources from which funding would be drawn. Furthermore, the legislation strengthens the NHIA to discharge a wide range of regulatory and promotion functions to ultimately ensure that every Nigerian receives access to quality and affordable health care,” the statement read.

“In any event, while the NHIA understands the excitement around the new law, it craves the patience of stakeholders and industry watchers including the media to wait for a formal unveiling of the document in days ahead.”

The NHIA said for over two decades, industry professionals had sustained the call for an amendment to the health insurance law, being a major impediment to the attainment of Universal Health Coverage.

According to it, by this development, efforts to tackle the high incidence of poverty caused by out-of-pocket expenses for health care, through health insurance for all categories of Nigerians by 2030 is now more realisable than ever before.

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