Friday, March 31, 2006

Zim freezes health care fees

The Zimbabwean government has invoked the Medical Services Act of 1998 and ordered private doctors, clinics and hospitals to temporarily suspend fee increases pending an inquiry into their operations.

Health and Child Welfare Minister David Parirenyatwa on Thursday said private health care providers would not effect further fee increases.

Private health care providers had initially indicated their intention to increase fees by 240 percent from April 1, but this subsequently went down to between 76 and 96 percent following negotiations with medical aid societies.

The minister's move comes at a time when the government has expressed disapproval of current fee levels and the public has been complaining about the high charges, with patients being required to pay between 60 million Zimbabwean dollars (about 400 U. S. dollars) and 1 billion Zimbabwean dollars (about 6666 U.S. dollars) for admission at private clinics and hospitals.

According to the Medical Services Act of 1998, part four, sub- paragraph 13, the health minister is entitled to designate fees for private hospitals. "I do not expect anyone to breach this order," Parirenyatwa said.

While some medical aid societies have welcomed the latest development, several doctors and officials at private hospitals described the move as unfortunate and ill-considered taking into account that they were buying drugs, equipment and salaries without assistance from the government.

They said it was unfair for the government to halt any fee increases when private institutions were shouldering an increasing load of the health needs of the population because of the deteriorating service at public hospitals.

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