The Chairman, Senate Committee on Health Sen. Ibrahim Oloriegbe made the call in Abuja at a one-day public hearing to consider two health bills.

The bills are Bill for an Act to repeal the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) Act 2004, and to enact the National Health Insurance Commission Bill 2019.

The second bill is a Bill for an Act to provide for the Enhancement and Regulation of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Protect Persons with Mental Health Needs.

The bill also seeks for Establishment of National Commission for Mental and Substance Abuse Services for effective management of mental health in Nigeria and other related matters 2019.

Oloriegbe noted that the current NHIS only provided for optional health insurance in the country.

He said countries that have made substantial progress toward universal health coverage did so because they made health insurance mandatory.

Oloriegbe, however, said making health insurance compulsory without sufficient arrangements to subsidise it would not work.

He said there was the need to make efforts to subsidise the payments of Nigerians who cannot afford the insurance premium.

“The poverty rate in Nigeria is about 35 per cent of the population which translates to over 60 million Nigerians living below poverty line.

“This group of people cannot afford insurance premium, yet we cannot allow them to suffer for health Care services.”

Oloriegbe said the proposed bill comprised nine parts and 79 clauses.

Highlights of the bill according to Oloriegbe, includes the establishment of the National Health Insurance Commission, governing council and its functions.

He said the bill provided for the types of health insurance schemes, registration and Licences of various schemes and provision for Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHPF), offences, penalties, and legal proceedings, among others.

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On National Mental Health Bill 2019, he said the bill was auspicious and appropriate for addressing the glowing number of suicide deaths in Nigeria.

He said it was unarguable that most of the suicides occur due to substance abuse, mental balance and non-availability of services to control the substance abuse.

He said the bill, made up of 12 parts and 74 sections seeks to provide direction for coherent, natural and unified response to challenges relating to delivery of mental health and substance abuse in Nigeria.

He also said the bill seeks to protect the rights and freedom of persons with mental ill-health and substance use related disorders among others.

Stakeholders in the health sector that made submissions via their Memoranda commended the senate on its efforts to review the NHIS Act to provide universal health coverage for all Nigerians.

Present at the public hearing were representatives of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), Health Maintainance Organisations (HMO), Officials of Ministry of Health, NHIS among others.