Outrage has met the detention of bodies by public and private health institutions over non-payment of medical bills.
It is a situation that presents a moral dilemma because hospitals deserve by all means to be compensated for their services.
Yet, holding corpses as collateral compounds the grief of affected families and shows sheer disrespect to the departed.
Such cases have become increasingly common as terminal illnesses like cancer and other manageable conditions like diabetes and hypertension that lengthen treatment cycles, impoverishing even previously well-to-do-families long before the worst is pronounced.
The disputes between hospitals and relatives of the deceased, however, is an indictment of our health system that has focused on the curative to the detriment of the preventive; putting institutional care above support at home for patients.
Not surprisingly, patients in stable conditions who may just require a decent meal, taking their prescriptions on schedule and the occasional monitoring by a specialist fill up hospital wards; adding to the hospital bill every second.
Home care, a growth industry in more discerning economies, ensures inpatient services are a last resort, hence making treatment affordable.
To get there, policymakers need to review medical training across institutions where home nursing is not emphasised and the preventive, including public health, is downplayed.
Most hospital admissions are now linked to terminal, lifestyle and respiratory diseases which many medics regard as preventable.
This would call for a policy change in favour of responsible living, cleaner environment, especially in urban areas, and regular comprehensive medical tests.
Such diagnosis would see diseases like cancer treated early before they reach debilitating stages.
At community level, more hospices to attend to patients while providing them with social support groups should be established as well as sparing time for communal environment conservation activities.
This would take the input and leadership of public, private and non-profit actors to realise.
Even with these measures, a social safety net should be provided in cases where families overrun their insurance covers.
In public hospitals, politicians write off such debts at their own discretion. More structured ways of waiving bills for deserving cases should be explored.
Such systems can help the government establish a fund, possibly under a better governed NHIF, to help out in desperate cases.
Hospitals could also ride on the verifications to cushion themselves from loss when patients die without paying the bills.
By adding a minimal premium, they can easily negotiate secondary covers with insurers. At the household level, awareness on the need for top-up insurance for medical covers should be conducted by service providers.
Such measures would in concert obviate the need for out-of-pocket payments when urgent, huge medical expenses strike.
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