Historical account of the National Health Insurance formulation in Kenya: Experiences from the past decade

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Background: Many Low-and-Middle-Income countries are considering reviewing their health financing systems to meet the principles of Universal Health Coverage (UHC). One financing mechanism, which has dominated UHC reforms, is the development of health insurance schemes. We trace the historical development of the National Health Insurance (NHI) policy, illuminate stakeholders' perceptions on the design to inform future development of health financing policies in Kenya. Methods: We conducted a retrospective policy analysis of the development of a NHI policy in Kenya using data from document reviews and seven in depth interviews with key stakeholders involved in the NHI design. Analysis was conducted using a thematic framework. Results: The design of a NHI scheme was marked by complex interaction of the actor's understanding of the design, proposed implementation strategies and the covert opposition of the reform due to several reasons. First, actor's perception of the cost of the NHI design and its implication to the economy generated opposition. This was due to inadequate communication strategies to articulate the policy, leading to a vacuum of factual information flow to various players. Secondly, perceived fear of implications of the changes among private sector players threatened support and success gained. Thirdly, underlying mistrust associated with perceived lack of government's commitment towards transparency and good governance affected active engagement of all key players dampening the spirit of collective bargain breeding opposition. Finally, some international actors perceived a clash of their role and that of international programs based on vertical approaches that were inherent in the health system. Conclusion: The thrust towards UHC using NHI schemes should not only focus on the design of a viable NHI package but should also involve stakeholder engagements, devise ways of improving the health care system, enhance transparency and develop adequate governance structures to institutions mandated to provide leadership in the reform process to overcome covert opposition.