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Public perceptions on national health insurance: moving towards universal health coverage in South Africa

Public perceptions on national health insurance: moving towards universal health coverage in South Africa

South African Medical Journal 96(9): 814-818

Background. Since 1994, considerable progress has been made in transforming the South African health care system, implementing programmes that improve the health of the population, and improving access to health care services. However, amid escalating health care costs disparities continue to exist between the public and private health sectors. The implementation of a national or social health insurance remains elusive despite three government-appointed committees on the matter.Method and objective. This paper reports on the findings of a national probability household sample of the South African population, drawn as part of the 2005 HIV/AIDS national survey, to gauge public opinion on universal health care coverage. The perceptions of South Africans were assessed on selected health care affordability and financing issues.Results. The majority support efforts to contain medicine costs and one-third are of the opinion that the country can provide everyone with all the needed health care and medical services. A large percentage of participants thought it more important to provide improved health care coverage even if it meant raising taxes, while a small percentage said it is better to hold down taxes despite lack of access to health care for some South Africans. Almost a quarter of participants were unable to comment on questions posed to them, indicating the need for improved public education and communication.Conclusion. The study provides important insights into public opinion on key policy issues. However, greater public awareness is needed to ensure an informed debate, while the design of a universal national health insurance scheme must take into account both the current context and public opinion.

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