Examining purchasing reforms towards universal health coverage by the National Hospital Insurance Fund in Kenya

Mbau R, Kabia E, Honda A, Hanson K, Barasa E
Int J Equity Health. 2020;19

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BACKGROUND: Kenya has prioritized the attainment of universal health coverage (UHC) through the expansion of health insurance coverage by the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF). In 2015, the NHIF introduced reforms in premium contribution rates, benefit packages, and provider payment methods. We examined the influence of these reforms on NHIF's purchasing practices and their implications for strategic purchasing and health system goals of equity, efficiency and quality. METHODS: We conducted an embedded case study with the NHIF as the case and the reforms as embedded units of analysis. We collected data at the national level and in two purposively selected counties through 41 in-depth interviews with health financing stakeholders, facility managers and frontline providers; 4 focus group discussions with 51 NHIF members; and, document reviews. We analysed the data using a Framework approach. RESULTS: The new NHIF reforms were characterized by weak purchasing actions. Firstly, the new premium contribution rates were inadequately communicated and unaffordable for certain citizen groups. Secondly, while the new benefit packages were reported to be based on service needs, preferences and values of the population, they were inadequately communicated and unequally distributed across different citizen groups. In addition, the presence of service delivery infrastructure gaps in public healthcare facilities and the pro-urban and pro-private distribution of contracted health facilities compromised delivery of, and access to, these new services. Lastly, the new provider payment methods and rates were considered inadequate, with delayed payments and weak links to financial accountability mechanisms which compromised their ability to incentivize equity, efficiency and quality of healthcare delivery. CONCLUSION: While NHIF sought to expand population and service coverage and reduce out-of-pocket payments with the new reforms, weaknesses in the reforms' design and implementation limited NHIF's purchasing actions with negative implications for the health system goals of equity, efficiency and quality. For the reforms to accelerate the country's progress towards UHC, policy makers at the NHIF and, national and county government should make deliberate efforts to align the design and implementation of such reforms with strategic purchasing actions that are aimed at improving health system goals.