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X-raying Nigerians apathy towards health insurance

By Adedotun Ajayi.

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In Africa’s most populous country, the scenery of healthcare remains a critical concern, with access to quality medical services often hindered by financial barriers.

Despite the potential shield that health insurance offers against exorbitant medical expenses, insurance remains a vastly untapped resource among Nigerians, with a mere six percent of the population embracing its benefits. While civil servants were among the first to recognize its value, the majority of Nigerians continue to overlook any form of insurance, including essentials like health insurance.

According to recent studies and surveys, the uptake of health insurance in Nigeria remains dishearteningly low. According to experts, various factors contribute to this evident indifference, primarily rooted in misconceptions, financial constraints, and systemic inefficiencies within the healthcare system.

In a recent interview with Ayodeji Ayanleye, a renowned public health educator, he shed light on the pervasive reluctance among Nigerians to embrace health insurance, citing several prevalent factors influencing this trend.

According to Ayanleye, one primary reason for the resistance towards health insurance is the prevalent misconception and lack of awareness regarding its functionality and benefits. He emphasized that many Nigerians have limited understanding of how health insurance operates, leading to skepticism and ultimately discouraging enrollment.

Financial constraints were also identified as a significant hurdle in the adoption of health insurance. Ayanleye highlighted that a substantial portion of the population perceives insurance premiums as an additional financial burden. Coupled with doubts about the transparency and efficiency of insurance schemes, this financial strain acts as a deterrent to pursuing health coverage.

Furthermore, Ayanleye pointed out the systemic challenges within the healthcare infrastructure as contributing to the skepticism surrounding health insurance. Inadequate healthcare facilities, insufficient medical personnel, and inconsistent service quality diminish the perceived value of investing in insurance for many Nigerians.

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In light of these observations, Ayanleye stressed the urgent need for comprehensive education campaigns aimed at dispelling myths, enhancing awareness, and communicating the tangible benefits of health insurance to the Nigerian populace. He also advocated for policy reforms and systemic improvements within the healthcare sector to create an environment conducive to increased trust and uptake of health insurance.

While acknowledging the complexities, Ayanleye expressed optimism about the potential for change, urging concerted efforts from government bodies, healthcare providers, and public health educators to address these challenges and encourage a more widespread acceptance of health insurance among Nigerians.

Dr. Isaac Olusanya, a medical practitioner, explored the intricate web of reasons contributing to Nigerians’ cautious approach towards embracing health insurance, providing a contrasting viewpoint to prevalent notions.

He explained that while awareness and education play a role, the primary factor deterring Nigerians from health insurance is a lack of trust in the system. He emphasized that many individuals harbor deep-seated skepticism about the transparency and effectiveness of insurance schemes, attributing this mistrust to past experiences or anecdotes of denied claims and inadequate coverage.

In addition to trust issues, Dr. Olusanya emphasized the socioeconomic disparities prevalent in Nigeria as a crucial factor influencing attitudes towards health insurance. He underscored that while some segments of the population might consider insurance a viable option, a significant portion faces pressing immediate needs, making the allocation of funds to insurance premiums seem less practical when weighed against daily survival.

While shedding light on the cultural and societal perspectives surrounding healthcare in Nigeria, he noted that traditional beliefs and practices still heavily influence healthcare decisions for many Nigerians, leading to a preference for traditional remedies or self-medication over formal healthcare systems, including insurance.

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In addressing these challenges, Dr. Olusanya advocated for a holistic approach. He stressed the importance of insurance companies demonstrating transparency, ensuring clearer communication about coverage, and actively engaging with communities to build trust. Furthermore, he proposed tailoring insurance packages to accommodate diverse socioeconomic strata, making them more inclusive and adaptable to various financial capacities.

Dr. Olusanya reiterated the need for a nuanced understanding of the multifaceted barriers inhibiting the widespread acceptance of health insurance in Nigeria. He emphasized that a comprehensive strategy, considering cultural nuances, socioeconomic realities, and rebuilding trust within the healthcare system, is essential to foster a more positive perception of health insurance among Nigerians.

According to Ireti Ogunjobi, a civil servant in her submission said; “As a civil servant enjoying the invaluable benefits of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), I can’t stress enough the peace of mind and security it brings to me and my family. Being a part of NHIS has been a game-changer in our approach to healthcare.

The comprehensive coverage provided by NHIS has not only eased the financial burden of medical expenses but has also afforded us access to quality healthcare services without the constant worry about the exorbitant costs. From routine check-ups to unforeseen medical emergencies, the NHIS coverage has been a reliable safety net, ensuring that health concerns never become financial burdens.

I strongly encourage fellow Nigerians, especially those in the civil service or eligible for NHIS enrollment, to consider embracing health insurance. The benefits far outweigh any reservations one might have. It’s not merely an expense but an investment in one’s well-being and that of their loved ones.

“The misconception that health insurance is an unnecessary cost needs to be dispelled. NHIS offers a wide array of benefits, including access to a network of healthcare providers, essential treatments, and preventative care measures. It’s a proactive step towards securing a healthier future.

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“I understand the skepticism that some may have due to past experiences or misconceptions about insurance. However, based on my personal experience, NHIS has been a reliable partner in safeguarding our health. The key is to research and understand the available options, ensuring that the chosen plan aligns with specific needs and preferences.

She concluded and said “I urge everyone eligible for NHIS or any form of health insurance to explore these options earnestly. Prioritize your health by securing the necessary coverage, it’s an investment that ensures peace of mind and access to quality healthcare when it matters most”

On the contrary, Joseph Owolabi, businessman and father of two, said; “As a father striving to provide the best for my family, I must confess that the realm of health insurance remains largely unfamiliar to me. I’ve heard about it in passing, but its intricacies and potential benefits remain shrouded in mystery.

Navigating life with two young ones, the thought of securing their health against uncertainties is a priority. However, my lack of knowledge and understanding about health insurance has been a significant barrier. There’s a sense of unease, not knowing how to ensure my family’s well-being beyond the basic healthcare options available.

I reckon that part of the reason for my ignorance stems from a lack of exposure and education about health insurance. In my circles and community, discussions about insurance have been scarce, and information about its workings and advantages hasn’t reached me.

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