NHIF payouts for Caesarean section operations have for the first time crossed the Sh1 billion mark in a year, highlighting the cost burden of the procedure to insurers.
Official records show that 24,492 mothers covered by the National Hospital Insurance Fund opted for C-section — a surgical operation to help deliver a baby — in the first half of 2016, from 22,411 in a similar period a year earlier, representing a nine per cent increase.
This saw the national health insurer pay Sh714.7 million in six months to the health facilities that performed the surgery, up from Sh432.1 million in a similar period the previous year.
Mr Geoffrey Mwangi, the NHIF chief executive officer, said payments for C-section have so far crossed the Sh1 billion mark for the first time due to the increased cost of the procedure and the large number of women opting for the operation.
“CS is one of the single largest benefits payments under the enhanced scheme,” said Mr Mwangi.
In 2015, the NHIF board increased the amount allocated to CS from Sh18,000 to Sh30,000.
The fund pays Sh10,000 for normal delivery, having increased it from Sh6,000.
Use of CS to deliver babies has been rising fast among Kenyan women because it shortens labour and cuts risks of complications associated with natural childbirth.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in 2014 predicted that CS would become even more common in Kenya if more women could access and afford it, in spite of the procedure being unnecessary in most instances.
Besides, private hospitals have been accused of pushing women to opt for CS for financial reasons.
This is because the procedure generates more money for doctors and the institutions compared to natural birth.
Elective operations such as CS are, however, not covered by private insurance providers fretful of its cost implications, making the NHIF the sole underwriter of the bills.
Private insurers only cover emergency cases up to some point and limit it to the first operation with the insured required to pay out of pocket for any other instance.
Top hospitals such as Nairobi’s Karen Hospital were mid last year charging about Sh220,000 for CS and Sh100,000 to Sh120,000 for normal delivery.
NHIF data shows that it paid Sh440.8 million for normal delivery in the half year period, involving 43,275 women, up from Sh273.8 million a year earlier.
A study dubbed ‘Revisiting Vaginal Birth After Previous Caesarean-section’ released last year found that women who have delivered babies through C-section can safely opt for normal births thereafter.
The study, which was conducted between 2014 and 2015 at Aga Khan Hospital in Kisumu, reviewed delivery records of women, who had undergone C-section but later had normal delivery, and found a success rate of 67 per cent.
“Vaginal birth after Caesarean is safe and can be offered as an alternative to elective Caesarean-section,” said Dr Bob Achila, one of the researchers.
The NHIF in 2015 introduced outpatient cover and enhanced benefits for ailments such as cancer and kidney dialysis after raising the amount that workers contribute to the fund from Sh320 to a graduated scale of between Sh500 and Sh1,700 per month.