Govt abdicating on its responsibilities

HARARE - The government has stolen $220 from me. Yes, the very government mandated to provide me with a constitutionally-guaranteed right to health has failed me. I have a $220 hole in my home economics budget right now because I have been forced to source US dollars from the black market because pharmacies have rejected my medical aid.

Now the medical insurer wants to reimburse me the US$42 I bought from the black market at Z$260 bond notes with Z$42 bond notes. They told me that was in line with the official exchange rate — the fantastical and ridiculous claim by government that the parity between the US dollar and bond note is 1:1.

This is very painful to me because I have religiously forked out $110 every month for myself to my medical insurer in the vain hope that I will avoid the inconvenience of looking for money for medication each time I fall sick.  I also pay for my dependants similar amounts in medical insurance.

Sadly, this is exactly what happened last week, a medical aid I had hoped to help me failed me not of its own volition, but because the government has fixed a fake exchange rate and also failed to provide pharmacies with foreign currency to import drugs.

As a result, pharmacies had to go to the black market to buy forex at exorbitant rates to keep their businesses running. Because medical insurers settle payments in
local currency, the pharmacies simply stopped accepting medical aid cards, for the simple reason that it will not make economic sense. It’s like I can’t afford to get sick after paying for health insurance. Let me go into detail about the merry-go-round I went through to eventually get my medication, albeit at a loss of $220.

I first went to one pharmacy to pick up medication that had been prescribed for me. They told me they no longer accepted medical aid. I protested that this was an apex package, but the pharmacist politely told me that this was the new “MO” — modus operandi. He told me that I may buy the drugs at US$67 cash.  I went to the next pharmacy, then the next, then the next and it was the same story.

Curiously, I got three different quotations in US dollars from three pharmacies, which seemed to me like rent-seeking behaviour and arbitrage. While the first pharmacy quoted me US$67, the second quoted US$57 while the third quoted US$42 for the same prescription. I checked with the public healthcare system, and they had none of the drugs I wanted. The vandalism of the healthcare system in Zimbabwe is simply appalling, seen in failure to provide basic drugs, basic services such as good pest control, sewerage systems, and water purification systems. That’s a story for another day.

My next headache was the currency black market. I was told it would cost more to buy US dollars in using the mobile money transfer platform than it is to pay in bond notes. So I approached my bankers, armed with the prescription and the pharmacy quotations in US dollars. The teller directed me to the bank manager, who was very helpful and politely said they could only dispense forex to me if I had an FCA. But because this was a medical emergency, he agreed to give me $300 in bond notes, which by the way is the daily withdrawal limit set by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. So after getting the $300 in bond notes, I headed to those mapostori (apostolic sect) ladies outside a popular Harare hotel to exchange the bond notes for US dollars. The $300 got me US$50.

I then headed straight to the pharmacy which had the cheapest quotation of US$42. I bought the drugs and a receipt in US dollars. I then headed to my medical insurer to get a reimbursement so that I do not destabilise my home budget. To my utter horror and disbelief, they told me they could only reimburse me at the official exchange rate, meaning I would be reimbursed $42 in bond notes. I protested that this is an injustice of the highest order, and where injustice becomes law, resistance naturally becomes a duty.

A very polite official explained kindly that this was a “crisis situation”. He said this was a crisis not of their own making, and they cannot reimburse at any other rate except what has been set by the government. After protesting vehemently, the executive asked what I suggested medical insurers do under such circumstances, and I told him they must simply reimburse in US dollars because their clients were buying drugs in green backs. He asked me a profound question: “Where do we get the US dollars from, given that you are paying your medical aid in local currency?”

I realised that the medical insurers, just like me, are also victims of the failed economic stewardship by government. As some consolation, the official told me reimbursements are now done every Thursday, not monthly as was previously the case. As I write, I have absolutely no idea how I will fill the $220 hole in my home economics budget. And the blame here lies squarely with government. They must simply accept that the economy is dollarising. It must scrap the bond notes as initially suggested by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube.

Of course, that proposal was rolled back because top government officials are the principal players on the currency black market. This situation is untenable for the infirm and the sick, those with chronic illness. Spare a thought for those on chemotherapy, those who require dialysis three times a week, the grannies who require hypertension tablets, those on anti retroviral therapy. Does government expect all these sick people to get foreign currency on the black market at those exorbitant rates?

The State is simply abdicating on its responsibility to give the pharmaceutical industry forex to buy drugs? The government must love it’s citizens. Despite all that Zanu PF bluster on the campaign trail, I’m not feeling loved by the government right now. And I want my money, I’m just a poor worker. $220 is a lot of money for me.
I’m ruminating over what course of action to take, approach the Constitutional Court because my right to health has been flagrantly abrogated, go to the Civil Court to recover my $220, or initiate a class action law suit in the High Court with other hard-done patients?

I’m in a catch-22 right now.  And it’s reprehensible that after creating this health crisis here home, the shefs (elites) all trek to top-notch health facilities in South Africa and other world capitals to consult specialist doctors while condemning citizens to death. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government must immediately start a journey to put in place the pillars of a sound health system, which combine the role of the government and the free market in a thoughtful way. Is that too much to ask?

Comments (1)

Ummm deep my brother,I really feel with you. Your article is for all of us. If only we had a people's gvt, by the people and for the people. Lord have mercy

Mblezh - 20 October 2018

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