Amidst tumultuous sounds of laughter and chatting, people engaged in various activities while waiting to register as members of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) at its headquarters on the ground floor of a 21-story building in Khmuonh commune, in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. 

Some played games on their mobile phones, others chased after their children and many were seated, reading brochures or gesturing animatedly in conversation.

Those seeking to register as NSSF members included both self-employed workers and individuals who currently have salaried jobs as well as their dependants. 

The public’s interest spiked after the government announced the implementation of the NSSF programme for the self-employed and their dependants on November 14.

NSSF deputy director-general Heng Sophannarith notes that the enthusiasm for registration at all NSSF branches across the Kingdom has continued. He interprets this as a growing awareness among the people of the benefits offered by the initiative.

As of January 8, a total of 111,720 self-employed individuals have registered, 11,506 of them are their dependents.

Sophannarith says past media campaigns have helped people recognise the value of the NSSF card. 

It ensures family economic stability through hospital insurance, maternity allowances and financial support for cremations in unfortunate incidents, thus preventing members and their families from falling into poverty.

“The people expressed their happiness and satisfaction that the government has taken care of their well-being and livelihood without leaving anyone out of the net of protection from the social security system,” he says.

The NSSF has formalised agreements with a total of 1,529 public and private healthcare facilities nationwide. This includes 1,395 public and 134 private health facilities.

Personal experiences at the NSSF

Yin Samoeun, a 36-year-old medical equipment repair worker from Phnom Penh, shares his experience while waiting in front of the registration office. 

Holding a mobile phone and a leaflet, he says that media coverage has informed him about the benefits of the programme. 

He is particularly pleased to discover that self-employed workers like himself are eligible for the same benefits as salaried employees. 

The realisation prompted him to register as a member.

To join the fund, social security and healthcare contributions for self-employed individuals amount to just 15,600 riel (about $3.80) per month. 

Samoeun finds the amount affordable and worthwhile, especially considering the financial relief it offers in case of chronic illness or other health issues requiring hospital visits.

“I learned about the NSSF benefits through the media and decided to register today. I believe the NSSF plays an important role in reducing the burden of hospital expenses. The contributions are small and easy to make. Now, we can even pay through an app, from anywhere,” he explains.

Nearby, on a concrete bench, Phan Thy, a 56-year-old farmer from Arey Ksat town in Kandal province, was reading an NSSF brochure. 

He told The Post that he became aware of the programme’s benefits through television and Facebook posts, which spurred his eagerness to join.

Thy expressed his excitement upon learning that farmers like himself could also become members by paying contributions. 

He mentioned that in the past, only his children and nephews, who were employed by well-paying companies, were eligible for an NSSF card.

He also shared that his children and nephews had experience using the card at partner hospitals. 

He notes that hospitals now pay more attention to cardholders, contrasting with past experiences where some hospitals seemed to discriminate against them.

“Now, hospitals are not like before; it’s much easier. I used to take my nephews to distant hospitals, which was costly and difficult. But now, I don’t have to spend money and it’s convenient,” he says.

Nearby, Ton Eng, a 54-year-old woman from Kandal province, shared her experience as well. 

Previously, she used an equity card, but with its expiry and the government’s announcement that the general public could obtain an NSSF card, she decided to apply for membership.

The entrance of the NSSF headquarters in the capital’s Sen Sok district.Heng Chivoan

Eng emphasised the financial relief provided by having a social security card, not only for pre-natal care and childbirth but also for other allowances.

Her experience was similar to Thy’s, as Eng’s children and nephews had also previously benefitted from use of the service.

She noted that at partner hospitals, patients with an NSSF card receive notably better care.

“Now they care a lot, they are friendly. Although there might be a wait, it’s clear that it’s on a first-come, first-served basis. Upon arrival at the hospital, they immediately inquire about the type of card we have. If we have a card, we just pass it to the reception and they prepare everything immediately,” she explains.

Thoughts from salaried employees

Not far from Eng, Chhorn Sok Thida, an 18-year-old student working at a private school in Phnom Penh, was sitting near a flower garden in front of the registration office. 

She notes that possessing an NSSF card covers future scenarios like accidents, health problems, hospitalisations or childbirth.

She says the social security system helps save money and ensures attention from medics.

“I think when we get sick or have an accident, we can go to the hospital for free. It’s easy if we have an NSSF card,” she said.

In black attire, Thy Thearith, a 27-year-old man also awaiting registration as an NSSF member, was chatting with a male friend who works for a private company in Phnom Penh. 

He expressed strong support for the government’s initiative to make social security available to all citizens, viewing it as a contribution to the economic development of local people and a reflection of the leaders’ concern for the well-being of the populace.

“I think it is good for our people. Both workers and businesspeople can use the card when they need hospital services. Using this card makes things easy and isn’t costly,” he says.

Tim Sreyroth, a 30-year-old woman employed at a private financial institution in Phnom Penh, was standing near a pillar while looking for clients to recommend opening bank accounts. 

She recounted her experiences with the fund, highlighting that each hospital visit garnered considerable attention from doctors. 

She particularly appreciates the ease and speed with which she could request refunds from the NSSF after giving birth.

NSSF’s impacts and plans for the future

Sophannarith, the NSSF deputy director-general, points out that the NSSF’s role in healthcare is positively altering perceptions and supporting the development of health services in the country. 

A major improvement, he notes, is in the professional attitude and ethics of doctors, mirroring those in neighbouring and developed countries where a single card can cover all hospital expenses.

“This is a contribution to reducing and eliminating all forms of solicitation of informal payments and corruption. Although the situation has improved, the NSSF is still committed to strengthening and widening access to services at health facilities,” he says.

He adds that enhancing access to healthcare services involves cooperating with health facilities to monitor and improve service quality. 

This includes considering the expansion of health facilities in areas based on membership density. 

Sophannarith says the NSSF plans to augment its support services for members through mechanisms like providing information and resolving disputes and complaints quickly, either directly or through hotlines like 1286 and 1297.

He adds that the NSSF is exploring the establishment of a health risk prevention committee and increasing education on occupational and health risk prevention measures. 

The initiative aims to raise awareness about the benefits and procedures of using NSSF services.