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Doctors up in arms over MPs’ plan to cut medical fees

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Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A major showdown is looming in the health sector after doctors challenged a plan by MPs to cut medical fees and charges, arguing that the government had no authority to prescribe the terms of engagement between the practitioners and private patients.

Kenya Medical Association (KMA) president Jacqueline Kitulu said in a statement that the lobby would “vigorously oppose any attempts to set private medical practitioners’ fees outside of the established mechanisms in law and professional codes.”

Dr Kitulu signalled that the doctors would resort to industrial action should they be forced to revert to the 2006 pricing guidelines that were abandoned two years ago.

KMA was responding to the National Assembly’s Health committee directive that Health secretary Sicily Kariuki immediately replaces the existing Medical Practitioners and Dentists Rules 2016 with the second edition of the Professional Fees Rules and Guidelines of 2006, which prescribes cheaper rates for various medical services and procedures.

“We are aware that the Government of Kenya has full authority to set fees and prices for services and goods offered in government-run facilities. We would, however, like to point out that this authority does not in any way extend to the intrusion of government into private relationships between a private practitioner and a client,” Ms Kitulu.

“We reiterate that purporting to control the fees charged by professionals outside of the self-regulatory mechanisms of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board (KMPDB) is not only against the law, but also violates the rights of private medical practitioners to earn a decent living,” she said.

Parliament said it was acting on the realisation that ordinary Kenyans needed legal protection from rampant exploitative practices such as unnecessary admissions, unjustified excessive hidden costs, excessive diagnostic tests and exaggerated prescriptions.

The committee also said that the high cost of treatment had led to the deterioration of services in the public sector after practitioners fled to open private clinics.

This, they said, was against the government’s quest to achieve the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) agenda.

Dr Kitulu, however, said that the 2016 guidelines did not affect services offered in public facilities and that the government has full control of the roll-out of UHC.

But Stephen Mutoro, the secretary- general of the Consumer Federation of Kenya (Cofek), which filed a petition in Parliament after a patient was overbilled at a Nairobi hospital, dismissed Dr Kitulu’s position as misinformed.

“…KMPDB is a public agency not exempt from the provisions of Articles 10 and 232 (that spell out values and principles of public servants).

“Additionally, self-regulation for medical doctors in setting their fees cannot be isolated from the context of Article 46 on consumer rights,” said Mr Mutoro.

“It is therefore futile for KMA to focus more on “earning a decent income” at the expense of consumers of their services. Self-regulation does not supersede legislation,” he said.

Parliament moved to action in the wake of a Cofek petition challenging what it termed as fraudulent medical bills that Nairobi-based MP Shah Hospital charged a patient, Matilda Anyango, who later passed on.

The committee said the late Anyango, who was billed Sh865,805 for a day’s admission at the MP Shah Hospital, was not the victim of an isolated but was an example of what Kenyans have been going through since the 2016 review.

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