High medical charges drive Kenyans into poverty – report

The Catastrophic Health Expenditures report prepared for the Ministry of Health by the US funded Health Policy Project says high medical bills are the single biggest cause of the poverty gap in the country.

The study had sampled 8,844 households: 2,772 urban and 6,072 rural, selected to ensure national representation. The ministry’s 2013 Kenya Household Health Expenditure and Utilisation Survey estimated that about 7.8 million of individuals seek health care at one of the over 10,000 facilities in Kenya every month.

The survey found the average total out-of-pocket spending per hospital admission is about Sh11,110. “But in 15 per cent of admissions, the required spending was in the range of Sh60,000.”

A recent analysis of the household survey by the independent research trust, Financial Sector Deepening Keya (FSD – Kenya) showed most families are not able to raise such money if required urgently.

A whopping 64 per cent of rural household heads and 55 per cent of urban household-heads reported that they would not be able to raise Sh2,500 and Sh6,000 within three days in the event of an emergency.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg” says Julius Koboi who has been attending a city private hospital for a hip fracture sustained in a violent attack. He has accumulated what he says is an impossible bill of more than Sh3.6 million.

Bulk of the money is owned to a Thika based private facility, which is holding his father’s 6-acre land title deed. “I was rushed to the hospital for emergency services after an ambush two weeks into the doctors’ strike,” he says.

With this kind of medical bills, FSD, which is supervised by KPMG Kenya, says desperate Kenyans turn to their social network for assistance or resort to selling assets to finance care.

When faced with large medical costs, FSD found 33 per cent of Kenyans go for their savings, 37 per cent turn to family members and 10 per cent reported selling assets such as vehicles, land, business or household goods or livestock.

The high cost of health care in Kenya, than in most other like countries has been blamed largely on greed, corruption and incompetence in the private and public health sectors. Repeatedly, the health sector in Kenya has scored highly in the corruption index.

To reign in some of these improprieties, the Cabinet Secretary for Health Dr Cleopa Mailu in a Gazette Notice put a ceiling on medical charges in the private sector.

It will be an offence for a private hospital or doctor to charge a mother delivering through caesarian section more than Sh180,000. Currently, some hospitals charge upwards of Sh250, 000.

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