By Oswald Agwu.

Ebonyi State Health Insurance Agency, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development- funded Integrated Health Programme (USAID-IHP) has engaged Ebonyi Stakeholders on ways to fully operationalize health insurance scheme in the State.

In a two day sensitization meeting, held wednesday and Thursday in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital, the Stakeholders, including leadership of the State branch of the Nigeria Labour Congress, accredited service providers as well as the media brainstormed on ways of overcoming the impediments to smooth take-off of the programme in the State beginning from the formal sector.

Recall that the Ebinyi Staye Health Insurance Agency was established by Law 002 of 2018.

Governor David Umahi had flagged-off the health insurance scheme since June, to begin with the Civil servants. Since then, the scheme could not take off because there seemed to have been some grey issues between the government and Labour union over commencement of premium deductions from workers salaries.

It was gathered that Labour had insisted that they would only assent to commencement of agreed 5 percent premium deduction from worker salary if government first drops its own agreed One hundred million naira take-off counterpart.

The Executive Secretary of the Agency, Professor Mrs. Uzoma Maryrose Agwu, addressing newsmen at the event explained that the essence of the sensitization meeting was to intimate the stakeholders of the preparedness of the Agency to begin enrollment into the scheme, as well as seek their cooperation.

She reemphasized the the State government has earmarked the sum of N100 million as counterpar funding towards the take-off of the scheme for Civil servants in the State and appealed for their consent to allow premium deductions from their salaries.

Professor Agwu explained: “Today we are doing this sensitization meting to sensitize the Labour Unions and others stakeholders, including our service providers on our activities; the fact that we are ready to start enrolment, and also engage them because we need them to support the deductions for the civil servants so we can start enrolling them.

” The State government had already voted One hundred million naira counterpart for the kick off of the scheme.

“But the consent of the Civil servants is what we are waiting for now. The government is not going to start deduction without their agreement.

“So this sensitization is to get it ready, and we will take their questions and know how far it goes, so that we can start as soon as possible.

” Some other States have started.

“We got stagnated somehow, because after flagging off the scheme, somehow, I was wondering what next to do.

” Deductions were not going to start unless we get the consent of intended beneficiaries.

“We deemed it imperative to carry out this sensitization, and USAID-IHP came in to partner with us by funding this event as we’ll as lending technical support.”

Mrs Agwu, a consultant Obstetrician/gynaecologist at the Alex Ekwueme Federal University Teaching Hospital, Abakaliki, further explained that enrollees would start accessing care from the scheme within three month of commencement of enrollment.

She also revealed that the State has registered over 14,000 beneficiaries in the already existing federal government Basic Healthcare Provision Fund (BHCPF) which EBSHIA was also managing, stressing that the State was given a target of 19,000 from the federal government.

The State NLC chairman, Mr. Leonard Nkah who participated in the event with some members of his executives told newsmen that there have been sensitization of workers about the scheme going on through their various unions.

He however acknowledged that there were areas of contention previously on the take-off of the scheme, and expressed optimism that this move by the Agency and its partner would facilities immediate commencement of the scheme, provided the State government fulfils its Part of the deal.

Nkah noted: “A lot of seminars had been carried out, and we kept saying that some variables needs to be put in place before we can sign the documents that would make this programme to start off.

” But at this juncture, I am convinced and satisfied that nothing will delay the take-off of the scheme by way of workers participation, given that the Governor will do his part.

“As far as I am concerned, we have seen the law; as soon as the law was made,some of the Assembly members called, and I told them what is the best practices in the federal establishments.

” And from what I have seen today, based on the percentage deduction, it is still in line.”

Nkah observed that though the minimum wage workers in the State hoped for had not come, workers would still queue into the scheme since the deduction was based on a certain percentage.

Speaking on the role of the USAID-IHP in the programme, Chidimma Eneze, the Health Financing Advisor for IHP, Ebonyi State, said IHP has committed as part of its mandate of strengthening health systems, to offer EBSHIA all the needed procedural, advisory and technical assistance to ensure the smooth take-off of the scheme in the State.

She explained that IHP, apart from co-sponsoring some events with EBSHIA, has also helped the Agency in producing some of its important documents required for the operation of the scheme.

She also noted that IHP was ready to support EBSHIA with advocacy to the high level stakeholders in the State: government and the legislature, to push for budgetry increase in expenditure on health, as well as the allocation of the equity fund that would be used to provide services for all the enrollees in the State.

Eneze said:-“IHP has the mandate to strengthen health system in Ebonyi State, and one of the key components of quality health system is the health financing, and that is where Ebonyi State health insurance scheme fall in.

” Our mandate here in the State is to support technically to operationalize the scheme, and to ensure that the scheme is in line with best practices in Nigeria.”

Participants at the meeting were educated on the overview of the Agency and the scheme, EBSHIA code of conduct, roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in the Ebonyi State health insurance scheme; marketing, sensitization and enrollment plan.

Resource persons were drawn from among medical consultants, IHP and EBSHIA staff.

Participants were later shared into groups to brainstorm further on strategies towards making the Agency’s marketing, sensitizing and enrollment more rewarding.

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