The introduction of health insurance in all apparel factories will boost workers' productivity and reduce absenteeism in workplaces by improving their health and safety conditions, experts said yesterday.
At least $10 billion will also be added to the country's economy annually if all workers are brought under the insurance coverage, speakers said at a seminar titled "Institutionalising Health Insurance Programme for RMG workers" at Cirdap auditorium in the capital.
The event was organised jointly by SNV Bangladesh and the Institute of Health Economics, University of Dhaka.
Currently, around 29,500 workers of 16 factories are enrolled under a health insurance model, piloted by SNV, Brac and Care.
A beneficiary avails medical expenses up to Tk15,000 by paying an annual premium of only Tk575. Of the amount, Tk275 comes from donors, and the remainder is equally paid by workers and owners.
Jamal Uddin, inclusive business adviser at SNV, said the factories where the health scheme was rolled out are experiencing boosts in productivity, fewer work absenteeism and less tendency of migration.
Usually, per month on an average, 10% of workers shift to other factories for better opportunities and up to 8% remain absent for illness.
Md Hanifur Rahman Lotus, chairman at Standing Committee on Health Centre of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), thinks if Tk1 is invested by per worker in health insurance, it will give Tk15 in return.
In this way, the sector's additional contribution to the country's economy will be $10 billion, he added.
While talking about financing mechanism, he advocated for a collaboration among the government, factory owners and workers.
At present, there are 45 lakh RMG workers in the country. For example, only if they pay Tk1 each daily, it will be possible to raise a big fund. When the contribution of the government and the owners will be added to it, the fund will be enough to meet health expenses of the workers, Hanifur pointed out.
Contradicting Hanifur, Fazlee Ehsan Shamim, a director of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, told The Business Standard that they have already invested for their workers' healthcare facilities. So, spending more in the form of health insurance will come as another burden for them.
Dr Mohammad Shahadat Hossain Mahmud, director general of the health economics unit of the health and family welfare ministry, suggested forming a commission to oversee the insurance fund which will be raised by the three groups.
However, Professor Syed Abdul Hamid, director at the Institute of Health Economics of the University of Dhaka, recommended continuing the existing health insurance scheme under the Bangladesh Employees Welfare Board until the National Health Commission is formed.
The pilot health insurance scheme will end in 2021.
Sirajul Islam Rony, president at the Bangladesh National Garments Workers Employees League, said as part of the apparel sector, buyers and brands should also contribute to the fund.
"It might not be possible to bring workers of 42 sectors at the same time under the insurance coverage. We can begin with RMG. Gradually, all will come under it," he added.
Md Amir Hossain, director general of the Central Fund under the labour and employment ministry, said after the Rana Plaza tragedy, Bangladesh's apparel factories have ensured safety and social compliance. Now, it is time to bring workers under health insurance.
The idea of alternate health financing has come in the light of the out-of-pocket health expenditure having now reached about 77% while the government bears only 23%, said Dr Md Nurul Amin, director (research) at Health Economics Unit under the health and family welfare ministry.
Quoting a World Bank report 2019, he said at least 16% of people are refraining from medical expenses for a lack of money while 3.4% fell below the poverty line after expending for treatment.