South African Leader to Sign Health Law Opposed by Business

(Bloomberg) -- South African President Cyril Ramaphosa plans to sign a controversial health-insurance bill that the country’s main business lobby group described as unaffordable and unconstitutional.

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The presidency said Ramaphosa will assent to the legislation on Wednesday. That’s two weeks before national elections in which the ruling African National Congress risks losing its majority for the first time since coming to power three decades ago.

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The so-called NHI bill seeks to provide quality health care for the 85% of South Africans who have no medical cover and rely on a decrepit public system with too few doctors. The ANC has highlighted the health-insurance plan on the campaign trail, with Ramaphosa pledging to use the bill to end “health-care apartheid” when he addressed a rally last month in the highly contested eastern KwaZulu-Natal province.

While there’s widespread support for reform of a system in which a multibillion-rand private health-care industry services less than a fifth of the population, NHI critics argue the government’s proposals haven’t been properly costed and may be successfully challenged in court.

The legislation provides a framework for the provision of universal care through a state-run fund and will ban the private sector from financing treatment covered under the plan.

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Business Unity South Africa, the nation’s main business lobby group, criticized the planned signing of the legislation.

“BUSA believes that the legislation, in its current form, is unimplementable and damaging to the country’s health-care sector, to the economy more broadly and to investor confidence,” it said in a statement. “We will pay close attention to the president’s announcement on Wednesday, based on which we will consider our options.”

(Updates with comment by business lobby group in sixth paragraph.)

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