Monday, September 25, 2017

WHAT'S UP DOC : Govt’s control of private health sector is risky

Dr Syriacus Buguzi

Dr Syriacus Buguzi 

By Dr Syriacus Buguzi

The government is now working towards ensuring Tanzanians access quality healthcare without suffering financial hardship when paying for health services, through promoting Universal Health Coverage (UHC).

However, this has come with one key challenge. The government wants to achieve the UHC strategy through means that might leave the private health sector ‘crippled.’

In September last year, the government announced it was scaling down the hospital billing rates to harmonize the cost of treatment in public and private health facilities.

While the aim is to ensure reliable and quality health services to Tanzanians, one thing that boggles the mind is: How fair is it for the government to set up healthcare prices for private health facilities?

Well, recent studies have shown that about 40 percent of the population is served by private health facilities.

Some people argue that private health facilities offer better health services compared to public facilities. There are those who don’t agree with this assertion. We are yet to see a study that would conclude which is one is better. But, going back to my main question on the government’s decision to dictate prices for the private health sector, I recently came across people who argue that the government is right to do so.

The argument is that the government should step in because private health facilities have been largely found to work ‘haphazardly’ meaning that the owners of these facilities set high prices irrespective of what the situation is in the market.

They say, private health facilities are profit-oriented and at times over-treat or rather engage in disease-mongering, failing to stick to medical ethos.

However, there are healthcare planners who argue that the government should keep its hands off because the healthcare prices are set by market forces.

They argue that private health facilities don’t get subsidies from the government to run, just as public health facilities do. Private ones rely solely on cost-sharing for sustainability.

It is therefore important to set a ground for a level playing field that will not compromise any sector, over the other, they argue.

So, to keep the public health facilities running without being compromised, there are calls for the government to stick to an effective public-private partnership (PPP). Who will create a good ground for this? Both sectors need a serious round-table talk.

During this year’s East Africa Health Federation in Dar es Salaam, one stakeholder was of the opinion that if the government manages to control the private health sector to that extent, young medical entrepreneurs with ambitions of investing in private health practice might be discouraged.

If the private health sector is weakened, it means that 40 percent of people who seek healthcare in those facilities might be deprived of the care they deserve.