Lagos Health Insurance Scheme for retirees?
A statement by the Director-General of the Lagos State Pension Commission (LASPEC), Mrs. Folashade Onanuga to the soon-to-retire staff of the state public service on the action plans to extend health insurance services to them is quite remarkable.
The plight of retirees in Nigeria and in most developing societies has been quite lamentable. Most of these retirees usually have numerous challenges of which health is one of the most critical. As public servants attain the age of retirement, which is at least 60 years for most public and private sector organisations, these challenges begin to manifest. At that age, many persons whether in active service or not, usually have one health challenge or the other. Common health issues encountered among many retirees and other senior citizens are issues of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart-related ailments, arthritis and eyesight problems among others.
In other jurisdictions, particularly in developed societies, these senior citizens are usually confined to Old Peoples’ Homes where government makes provision for their social and health needs, with the taxpayer made to bear the brunt of such arrangements. However, in Africa, with our extended family system and the taboo associated with one’s parents being in such public social facilities, the need to attach some health benefits to a pension arrangement appears to be an innovation that should be commended and should be emulated by both the federal and other sub-national governments in the country.
That this innovation is coming from Lagos State is not too surprising since Lagos State usually sets pace as Nigeria’s centre of excellence and this plan appears to attest to this perception. Largely, on many fronts, Lagos State has been a symbol and example to other states and has thus been a sort of “Mecca” for most other state governments across the federation in seeking solution to varied problems that confront them.
The issue that should elicit answers from the Lagos State government authorities is how this scheme would work since it appears to be a merger between two different schemes, a pension scheme and a health insurance scheme. This is particularly so for a public sector organisation. In the private sector, even in some Federal Government departments and agencies, retirees are entitled to healthcare benefits in addition to a gratuity and periodic pension payments on an annuity basis. For the core ministries, whether at the federal or state levels, these arrangements are rarely provided for. One then begins to wonder how the scheme will work, whether extra budgetary provisions would have to be made for the health insurance separate from the pension arrangements, which invariably are largely contributory. One hopes that the Lagos State government has thought through this arrangement and that the proclamation by the Director-General of LASPEC is not just mere rhetoric, to pacify the helpless and probably disgruntled retiring staff, with no concrete plan for a take-off of the scheme, as promised.
This fear factor appears real because public servants, albeit the Nigerian populace have been severally deceived by the authorities, over the years, with promises of some kind of utopia that await them, at different times, only for them to experience disappointment when it comes to implementation and delivery. This is the plight of many Nigerians, particularly in this era of political campaign when unreasonable promises are being thrown around to unsuspecting citizens, in a quest to get political support.
Finally, aside from the health insurance benefits, governments at all levels should ensure that pension benefits are paid as at when due. This is very paramount. This country should progress to the level where retirees are sent off on their last day at work with all due pension and gratuity benefits. If this becomes the case, some of the health challenges confronting the retirees will be minimised as the availability of their due financial entitlements will enhance their peace of mind as well as their capacity to address minor health challenges that may arise.
However, if in addition to this, a separate health insurance scheme is put in place for them, that would be a step in the right direction. Such a move will enhance the building of a society where the “labours of our heroes past” would not be in vain. In that case, Nigeria would gravitate to become a healthier and kinder society to senior citizens and to all others who have served in various capacities. All told, the Lagos State Health Insurance Scheme for retirees should not be another pipe dream.