Health News of 2014-05-08

Rush for biometric health insurance cards

Scores of people are thronging National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) registration centres in the Greater Accra Region to have their biometric cards. To avoid being in long and winding queues, some of the people get to the centres as early as 4 a.m.

Many of them go there to renew their NHIS cards, most of which have expired or are due for renewal, while others only want to have the new biometric cards.

The nation-wide roll-out of the instant issuance of identity cards based on biometric data started in the Greater Accra Region in January 2014 after a pilot which targeted the police and the military in two districts in the Greater Accra Region — Ayawaso and La.

The NHIS has 14 district offices in the Greater Accra Region which are all registration centres, and so depending on the size and population of the district, more machines are provided.

As of 12 noon yesterday, 430,165 had been issued with biometric ID cards in the Greater Accra Region.

At the Osu Clottey NHIS Centre at Asylum Down, the Daily Graphic observed that dozens of people were waiting patiently for their turn to have their fingerprints captured and pictures taken for the new biometric cards.

Most of the people spoken to said they were in the queue because they had gone to hospital with their NHIS cards, only to be told that the cards had expired.

An elderly man who said he was from hospital said he did not have money to pay for cash and carry and so he had to wait till he got his card before he could go back to the Adabraka Polyclinic for treatment.

At the Iran Clinic

At the Iran Clinic at Asylum Down, an NHIS registration official stationed there, Ms Hannah Narh, said for the past one month she had been collecting data from people who wanted to renew their expired cards, as well as those who wanted to join the scheme.

Her duty, she said, was only to record their data, collect their premiums and then issue them with receipts.

They then would have to go to the Osu Clottey NHIS Centre at Asylum Down where they would have their pictures taken and thumbprinted for instant biometric cards to be issued.

A mother who was turned away as she sought medical care for her son at the Iran Clinic because his card had expired said she could not afford the cash-and-carry system at the clinic and so took her sick son home.

“The health insurance card has been of tremendous benefit to me and my four children,” she told the Daily Graphic.

According to her, at least she sent one of her children to hospital every month free because of the NHIS.

The biometric card

The Communications Manager at the National Health Insurance Authority (NHIA), Mr Selorm Kordzo Adonoo, told the Daily Graphic that the biometric registration was a national strategy which was being rolled out in phases.

By the close of this week, all districts in the Greater Accra, Central and Eastern regions would have been covered and then it would be the turn of the Ashanti Region.

He said it was an incremental roll-out, “so we are taking one region at a time”, adding that “by the roll-out plan and progress made so far, we are confident the whole country will be covered by the close of the year”.

Who is eligible

According to Mr Adonoo, every person resident in Ghana, including all citizens and legally resident foreigners, was eligible to register for the NHIS card. He said people in any of the regions covered by the new biometric system could visit any NHIS district office and get registered.

He, however, advised that only those whose cards were near their expiry dates or first-time subscribers should visit the centres because there was no need to rush once a card was not near its expiry date.

He advised that no service provider should turn any NHIS subscriber away on the basis of possessing the old card.

Measures in place to address high numbers at centres

Mr Adonoo said the NHIS was impressed by the turn-out and the interest people had shown in registering with the scheme.

“For us, it speaks of the confidence Ghanaians have in the scheme and is an indication that Ghanaians are happy with the path the country has chosen to finance health care,” he said.

Measures, he said, had been put in place to control the numbers and ensure that everybody who called at an NHIS office to register or renew his or her membership was satisfactorily attended to.

One of those measures, he said, was the fact that “our staff are working long hours now. In some areas the office starts work at 6 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. Others start at 7 a.m. and close 9 p.m., instead of the normal 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. working hours”.

“Some of our offices open on weekends just to ensure that clients are served. Pregnant women and the aged have received treatment.

“We have also directed our offices to use a booking system which schedules clients to appear at various times of the day, so people do not spend a lot of time awaiting their turns at our offices,” he said.

Also, more equipment had been supplied to some of the offices where the numbers were high, he said, adding, “Aside from these, a mobile team is being set up to be moving around to provide assistance for districts which may have congestion at their centres at any given time.”

He said special arrangements had also been made for schools in districts where the roll-out were taking place and called on heads of schools to contact district officers for that special arrangement to be made for them. a