Cancer patients under the National Health Insurance Scheme, NHIS, may soon breathe a sigh of relief as plans are underway to increase the coverage and treatment of the disease under the scheme.
The acting executive secretary of the agency, Attahiru Ibrahim, disclosed this in his office in Abuja during a courtesy visit by the Project Pink Blue, a non-governmental organisation involved in cancer advocacy in Nigeria.
Mr. Ibrahim said the agency is aware that funding for illnesses in Nigeria is quite difficult adding that the scheme is currently seeing how it can integrate treatment of more diseases not yet covered.
The NGO had visited the agency to solicit that cancer treatment be included as part of the health treatment package enrolees of the scheme benefit from.
Mr. Ibrahim explained that ”part of cancer treatment and some drugs are no longer excluded” in the NHIS benefit package adding that the agency is currently doing a general review with a view to adding ”new procedures and drugs to the list of what it previously covered.”
Mr. Ibrahim said Nigerians, especially enrolees, need to familiarise themselves with the rules and regulations of the agency as this is how they can have a better understanding of what their insurance package covers and can demand for these from health providers.
He said most Nigerians complain about the scheme due to ignorance as they are usually unaware of its immense benefits and their privileges as enrolees.
Mr. Ibrahim disclosed that previously, NHIS had been handling the treatment of some cancer patients as part of the centenary celebration, but had not incorporated it in full into the scheme because of the lack of funds.
He explained that the NHIS intervention in cancer treatment started around 2014 and was targeted at taking care of just 100 people, ”at that time as part of the centenary celebration.”
“NHIS is ready to do more but we cannot because of our meagre resources, I said meagre resources because prior to the time we were not part of the Treasury Single Account, TSA, we were able to invest our money and get returns on it. But now that TSA has commenced till date, our money keeps declining because our money is tied up in it and we have argued that the government should allow us have the money so that we can invest it and grow the money but they are saying it is against the TSA”, he said.
He however urged the government to improve on getting more people enrolled into the scheme.
“Until health insurance is compulsory for all its citizens, we cannot achieve a universal health coverage and that is the only way most Nigerians can immensely benefit from it in terms of wider health coverage and funding”, he said.
Gloria Oriji, a breast cancer survivor and the governor of the Abuja Breast Cancer Support Group, ABC-SG, in her remarks during the visit urged the health agency to include cancer treatment as a regular disease to be funded by NHIS.
She said it is hard enough for a person to be diagnosed with cancer and, ”much harder when the person has to start seeking funding on how to battle with the aliment.”
“We are here to advocate that cancer treatment and medication should be included as part of what is covered under the NHIS scheme especially for those patients who registered (for) it. The treatment of cancer is very expensive and most people cannot afford it. We need the scheme to cover some of the progress as this will help ease the financial stress for the patients and their families”, she said.
Ms. Oriji explained that cancer affects a person emotionally, physically and psychologically, and it is high time the government assists those diagnosed with the disease to make life easier through easy funding and access to treatment.
She added that most patients will be able to survive the battle with the disease if they had access to affordable treatment.
”We are using this medium to call on NHIS and the government to help ease the pain by collaborating with some of the manufacturing pharmaceutical companies, if they can also sell most of the needed cancer drugs at subsidised prices to assist with treatment”, she said.