Sylvester Mensah is the Chief Executive of the National Health Insurance Authority
The NHIS, as part of its efforts to extend coverage to various vulnerable groups across the country, has registered 401 inmates of the Pantang Psychiatric Hospital near Accra.
At a short ceremony to present the NHIS Identification Cards to the inmates on Tuesday, Director of Operations at the National Health Identification Authority, Mr Anthony Gingong said one of the reasons why the NHIS was set up “is to address inequity when it comes to financial access to healthcare in the country.”
He said though the NHIS is a social arrangement to reduce poverty, it was realised that a key section of the public who constitute mental patients, was not adequately covered under the scheme.
He therefore expressed confidence that with the enrolment of this category of the public onto the NHIS, and the coming into force of the new NHIA law, Act 852, people with mental challenges will also have their health care needs addressed.
Mr Gingong said a total of 8, 964 inmates from various psychiatric institutions in the country have been registered onto the scheme while the same gesture has been extended to 1, 438 patients at leprosaria countrywide.
Touching on how responsive the NHIA has been to the needs of the indigent, Mr Gingong announced that over 53,000 of the Livelihood Empowerment Against Poverty (LEAP) beneficiaries have already been registered onto the scheme.
Some 60 percent of the entire subscriber base of the NHIS according to the NHIA 2011 annual report make up the exempt category - under 18 year olds, indigents, above 70 year olds etc.
Mr Gingong also called for a change in public attitude towards mental health patients.
According to him, mentally challenged patients suffer so much stigmatisation from the public which sometimes leads to their needs being overlooked. He revealed that though the cost of the core treatment of mental illness was borne by government, patients are left on their own when they contract other common ailments like Malaria and cholera.
According to him, fortunately the new law governing the operations of the NHIS, Act 852 has room for mental health.
Contrary to the normal practice where newly registered NHIS subscribers wait for about three months before accessing healthcare under the scheme, Mr Gingong said the "inmates can start benefiting from the card right away. There is no waiting period for this."
Mr Gingong revealed that 2013 will be a busy year for the NHIA as the Authority will be undertaking major programs such as the instant issuance of biometric ID cards, nation-wide roll-out of Capitation and the commencement of electronic claims processing.
Psychiatric Specialist at the Pantang Hospital, Dr Frank Baning praised the NHIA for the move and called for more collaboration between the two institutions. He bemoaned the high level of stigmatization suffered by mental patients. He mentioned the sorry scenes at so-called healing and prayer camps where many mentally ill patients are sent.
According to him, some of the patients return from these camps worse than they were and though he said the camps are not the right places for many of the patients, doctors are compelled to work with them because of financial problems suffered by mental health practitioners and hospitals.
Dr Baning said a change of attitude towards persons with mental ailments will go a long way to diffuse the high level of stigma attached to the condition. In his view, “mental health should not be looked at in isolation.” He rather called on health policy makers to ensure “more integration in the management of health.”