Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki Thursday said the universal health coverage project will not be free.
Ms Kariuki said the 3.2 million residents of the four pilot project counties of Kisumu, Machakos, Isiolo and Nyeri have been getting free medical services in public facilities.
“To sustain UHC we cannot offer a free scheme. A team of experts is working behind the scenes to see how we can make it affordable and sustainable,” the CS said.
She added : “Affordable is not free. UHC does not mean the services are given free. It will be given in a manner that is affordable, sustainable, acceptable and that any Kenyan is able to access essential medical services,” said Ms Kariuki.
The programme was launched to counter the runaway costs of treatment that have been sending poor Kenyans to early graves and consigning thousands of families to poverty.
Millions of Kenyans cannot afford to pay for health services in public or private clinics because of poverty. A 2014 World Bank report showed that only 20 per cent of Kenyans have access to medical insurance.
During the launch of UHC in Kisumu last December, the perception created by government representatives was that once one registers and gets the UHC card, one can walk into any public hospital and get treatment for free regardless of the condition.
This has not been the case in most facilities though. Drugs are often out of stock with the few health workers available complaining of a heavy workload.
The programme has witnessed challenges ranging from lack of drugs to congestion, lack of blood and delay in the disbursement of UHC cards making some patients go without the services.
Experts have blamed the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) for inefficiency and sluggishness in delivering drugs to counties.
Governors have claimed that the law that stipulates that counties must buy drugs from Kemsa restricts them yet it does not guarantee efficient delivery.
They gave an example of simple pain-killer panadol which is sometimes out of stock in all the 47 counties.
“They work on a first-order first-get basis which affects some counties. This means that they are not aware of what kind of products to procure more. They do not know county needs,” said Dr Dickens Onyango, the Kisumu County Director of Health.
The leaders also accused the agency of delaying orders and delivering less than was ordered.
However, the pilot scheme has seen the number of Kenyans going to hospital rise from 20 to 58 per cent.