Extending coverage to the informal sector is a key challenge to achieving universal coverage through contributory health insurance schemes. Ghana introduced a mandatory National Health Insurance system in 2004 to provide financial protection for both the formal and informal sectors through a combination of taxes and annual premium payments. As part of its election promise in 2008, the current government (then in opposition) promised to make the payment of premiums 'one-time'. This has been a very controversial policy issue in Ghana. This study sought to contribute to assessing the feasibility of the proposed policy by exploring the understandings of various stakeholders on the policy, their interests or concerns, potential positions, power and influences on it, as well as the general prospects and challenges for its implementation. Data were gathered from a review of relevant documents in the public domain, 28 key informant interviews and six focus group discussions with key stakeholders in Accra and two other districts. The results show that there is a lot of confusion in stakeholders' understanding of the policy issue, and, because of the uncertainties surrounding it, most powerful stakeholders are yet to take clear positions on it. However, stakeholders raised concerns that revolved around issues such as: the meaning of a one-time premium within an insurance scheme context, the affordability of the one-time premium, financing sources and sustainability of the policy, as well as the likely impact of the policy on equity in access to health care. Policy-makers need to clearly explain the meaning of the one-time premium policy and how it will be funded, and critically consider the concerns raised by stakeholders before proceeding with further attempts to implement it. For other countries planning universal coverage reforms, it is important that the terminology of their reforms clearly reflects policy objectives.
Keywords: Universal coverage; national health insurance; stakeholder analysis; universal financial protection.