Disquiet grips Judiciary as staff medical cover slashed

Discontent is brewing in the Judiciary following drastic restrictions slapped on its staff medical insurance scheme over alleged misuse of healthcare facilities by members leading to hefty and “unsustainable” hospital bills.

The decision by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has sent shockwaves among the more than 4,000 staff, who have now been excluded from accessing admissions at high-end hospitals. They, however, will continue getting unlimited out-patient services across the board.

Further, low-cadre to middle-level staff with a maximum of Sh3 million annual medical cover have now been downgraded to Category C and D and will exclusively be treated at hospitals and health facilities affiliated to Meridian Medical Centre Ltd. Any staff member who opts for specialised treatment for themselves, their spouses or children in any other hospitals will have to pay from their pockets because no reimbursements will be forthcoming.

The biggest casualty of the austerity fiscal measures imposed by the JSC is the maternity healthcare portfolio that has been slashed to Sh75,000 from Sh150,000 for individual cases. Aggrieved employees have protested that the indiscriminate limitation is likely to compromise availability of quality interventions for emergency operations.

Dental and optical services will be offered to all non-judicial staff at designated clinics and specific doctors. There are financial limits to each category of employee but majority fall under the Sh7,500 bracket. Judiciary employees have been openly expressing grievances over what they claim is an attempt by the JSC to stifle morale and erode the welfare gains initiated by retired Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and implemented by former Judiciary Chief Registrar, Gladys Shollei.

Tension has been building up for the last three weeks, with the workers threatening to take unspecified industrial action to compel the JSC to review and upgrade the medical cover.

Chief Registrar Anne Amadi has already communicated to staff that the latest contract has been extended by 12 months effective from September 1 to August 31, next year. The restructuring of the staff medical scheme does not affect judges, magistrates, Kadhis and the senior management team who enjoy an elaborate separate medical insurance regime.

But other welfare benefits such as personal car loans and mortgages available to most cadres remain intact. The affected non-judicial staff have already started feeling the heat of the directive after they were denied services using their medical cards and compelled to pay for treatment,prompting them to seek clarification from the Human Resources Department at the Supreme Court.

Kenya Judicial Staff Association chair Sango Maewa confirmed the issue had adversely affected the employees and described the situation as “delicate and very sensitive.” Employees have reportedly been exchanging unsettling tales of experiences at top Nairobi hospitals where they have allegedly been humiliated on presenting their medical cards. “May I know how the institution arrived at Category D?

Is it that judicial officers and staff have been split into three other categories?,” an aggrieved staffer asked. “We should be told by the JSC whether the gains we made under Mutunga are now slowly being eroded.” According to Amadi’s internal memo dated August 31, the staggering hospital bills the workers have previously incurred were unsustainable.

Amadi said the management has noted abnormal usage of the medical insurance cover over the last few years where the cost of the scheme has escalated hence the need for review. She said the cost has been further escalated by employees seeking treatment for minor ailments at high-cost hospitals.

“In consultation with all stakeholders, we will soon introduce cost-cutting measures to make the medical insurance cover sustainable over the long-term to ensuring that out staff continue to enjoy this benefit. In the meantime, it is important that all staff exercise prudence in the enjoyment of this facility,” read the memo in part.

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