Just like other aspects of healthcare, the high mobile penetration rate in Nigeria has presented another opportunity for stakeholders in the health insurance sub-sector to achieve NHIS’ goal of health insurance coverage for every Nigerian.
To the average Nigerian on the street, ‘insurance’ is a strange luxury, while for many car owners, it is something they pay for to avoid getting their vehicles impounded by traffic officers. Very few of them really know how insurance works, and the number of those that are aware of health insurance are even fewer.
A 2013 report revealed only 3 per cent of the Nigerian population, about 5 million people, are covered by health insurance, even though the country’s National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) that was established in 1999 claims it is totally committed to securing universal coverage and access to adequate and affordable healthcare in order to improve the health status of all Nigerians.
The appreciable success the scheme has made has been with enlisting civil servants, because deductions are made directly from their salaries. For the rest of the population, there has not been much success in delivering health insurance coverage through NHIS’ Voluntary Contributors Social Health Insurance Scheme.
The scheme’s underperformance was linked to the recent sack of the scheme’s Executive Secretary and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Femi Thomas, by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Mobile brings hope
Just like other aspects of healthcare, the high mobile penetration rate in Nigeria, and, by extension, other parts of Africa, has presented another opportunity for stakeholders in the health insurance sub-sector to achieve NHIS’ goal of health insurance coverage for every Nigerian.
About a year ago—April 2014 to be precise—Nigeria’s largest telecoms company, MTN, and partners such as Salt & Einstein MTS, and the NHIS launched Y’ello Health, a mobile-based universal health insurance service that is targeted at mobile subscribers and offered through health management organizations. The micro-insurance service is giving Nigerians affordable health insurance coverage on a pre-paid basis. Users will use their mobile phones to pay for and access preferred medical treatments.
Dr. Femi Thomas said:
MTN is a large player in the Nigerian economy, having a good number of registered Nigerians on its database. To be able to reach out to Nigerians, we at NHIS decided to partner with Salt & Einstein MTS and MTN on this new initiative to achieve Universal Health Coverage for Nigerians nationwide.
As the largest telecoms company in Nigeria, partnering with MTN Nigeria is helping NHIS to reach a large number of people.
Stakeholders in both health and tech sectors in the country believe mobile technology will play a great role, as the country has over 120 million subscribers—who will now receive direct health insurance via their phones.
MTN Sales & Distributions Executive, Omatsola Barrow said:
MTN’s motivation to partner on the health insurance initiative with the Salt & Einstein MTS and NHIS, is driven by the firm’s passion to reduce exclusion and social disparities by supporting government’s vision of delivering health care for all as well as to make health care mobile by integrating it into the MTN broader digital strategy.
The service is expected to assist patients who need to visit hospitals at least twice monthly or up to 7 a year and get medical coverage of up to NGN80,000 annually. Patients will also have access to over 6000 hospitals from across the country that are registered with NHIS.
The success of the MTN mobile health insurance product has spurred other networks to launch similar product, the latest being Globacom.
The network is partnering with the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to launch the Mobile Health Insurance product for the people. The product, which is aimed at improving access to quality healthcare among Nigerians, was formally unveiled in Abuja on Monday at a press conference attended by top executives of Globacom; the former Chief Executive Officer of NHIS, Dr. Femi Thomas; the Chairman of Salt & Einstein MTS, Mr. Ernest Ndukwe; and representatives of Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs).
Globacom’s Regional Chief Marketing Officer, Mr. Ashok Israni, said the initiative will take care of the health of millions of Nigerians through their telephone handsets.
“There are millions of Nigerians yet to tap into the immense benefits of health insurance. This initiative will open a viable avenue for some of these people to come under the health insurance coverage, enabling them to sign up for one of the many HMOs accommodated in the scheme,” said Israni.
Philip Oluwatowo is one of the few Nigerians with health insurance coverage. When asked if he would have chosen to register via mobile phone instead, he said it took a while for him to be convinced at his place of work to sign up.
“Health insurance is still novel in Nigeria and I believe with time, more people will embrace it. The rate of adoption I believe would be exponential with the relative ease with which individuals can sign up via mobile phones. But they need to make people to become aware of the fact that the scheme is not a scam and those registered with the service will get covered. Once the telecoms companies are paying up, more people will sign up,” he said.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.