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Employers no longer able to sit by while employees forego most basic private care

Disparity in healthcare access among employees within South African companies has been a point of contention for over two decades. The reason attributed for this untenable situation has long been that private medical cover is prohibitively expensive. But this is no longer the case.

Newer entrants in the market, who are prepared to look at the accessibility challenge from a different, more practical perspective, are busy changing the status quo by delivering quality, affordable healthcare products that are focused on primary healthcare services.

Dr Reinder Nauta, the executive chairman of one such company, National HealthCare Group, firmly believes that healthcare does not have to be so costly that it becomes prohibitive. “Despite the medical funding industry’s many attempts to design and offer products for the low-income market, the sector has continued to struggle to broaden healthcare access by offering at least some basic form of healthcare insurance to hard-pressed healthcare consumers. As a healthcare funding industry we can and must do better.

“To begin with we need to get away from the notion that we need a sledgehammer to crack this nut. What is called for instead is a robust and highly effective primary healthcare solution, that can identify and address potential healthcare issues early on.

“If the devastating COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that employers cannot afford to allow staff members to be without quality primary healthcare any longer,” he asserts.

According to Dr Nauta, where healthcare funders and corporates have done their homework and have come up with more practical, hands-on solutions that are based on a savvy, primary healthcare approach, highly promising results have been delivered.

“While total equality in healthcare provision is still a long way off, many South African business owners agree that it is no longer acceptable for employees in the lower ranks of the workforce to forego the most basic, primary medical care services.

“As borne out by the experience of at least four different businesses – all of varying sizes and in totally different sectors of the market – we have been able to deliver impressive results. For example, absenteeism has been reduced by as much as 35% in some instances, while savings per employee per month ranging between 25% to 38% have been achieved.

“This clearly demonstrates that private healthcare does not necessarily have to offer all the bells and whistles that make it so prohibitively expensive, in order to improve and even save the lives of those who benefit from it,” notes Dr Nauta.

  • The first case study, conducted among more than 3 000 employees of fast-food group, Hungry Lion, over a six-month period, indicated a reduction in the number of staff members who were off sick by more than 35% over a six-month period. In addition, more than 25% in monthly savings were achieved in healthcare expenditure.
  • In another case study, conducted between April 2020 and end March 2021, the total administration and claims cost for 94 employees of Ciolli Readymix, was R77 000. Because of the carefully structured National HealthCare Group allowance model, the monthly cost of healthcare per employee was R170 lower than that of the closest competitor. Against the annual competitor average of R264 720, a saving of R187 530 – or 70.84% – was achieved. In addition, staff who were ill were properly diagnosed and treated for health conditions, thereby positively impacting absenteeism and overall productivity.
  • In a study conducted between January and December 2020 – a period generally viewed as one of the most difficult in the history of healthcare – a national credit management services company and call centre benefitted from 18% in savings on its healthcare services. The monthly cost for 534 beneficiaries was a highly affordable R187 per beneficiary, when compared to R231 for beneficiaries using a competitor product. Apart from the cost savings achieved in terms of contribution expenditure, additional savings and synergies were brought about when National HealthCare Group added an Employee Assistance Programme to its service offering, thereby obviating the need for a separate service provider.
  • Western Cape based financial services company, Zestlife were able to decrease absenteeism from 32% to 21%, with the aid of a National HealthCare Group solution while a marked increase in employee health and wellbeing was seen between May 2019 and March 2020. In addition, savings of around 31% per employee per month, compared to the nearest competitor solution were achieved. By December 2020 savings had further increased to 38%.

Commenting on the results achieved, Dr Nauta says that contrary to popular belief, healthcare is an affordable, and most important incentive that businesses can offer their employees. “Thanks to a fresh approach outside of the traditional medical scheme models, employers can now subscribe to the services of a network of GPs for a nominal administration fee of R45 per employee per month and a monthly contribution of R100. This essentially means that employees can benefit from the expertise of the same GP consulted by the CEO for a fraction of the price.

“Only when the employee or a member of their family needs a doctor’s consultation is the employer charged for a consultation. So far, several large corporates have adopted this employment benefit model and are seeing the return on investment it offers for a modest outlay that costs, on average, less than the employee’s Unemployment Insurance Fund contribution.

“MediClub ConnectTM, one of our most popular products, makes private consultations accessible to an enormous untapped market who currently rely on government healthcare services.  It provides professional advice, referrals to general practitioners and medication when needed. The elimination of the abuse of consultations – for example sick note exploitation – cuts costs immensely while mobile technology is the factor that makes these low fees possible,” explains Dr Nauta.

Dr Nauta explains that the National HealthCare Group advocates a fresh approach outside of the traditional medical scheme or healthcare insurance models, whereby employers subscribe to the services of a network of GPs for a nominal administration fee of R45 per employee per month.

“The marked cost difference we have achieved was made possible through a well-structured product combined with our particular pay-as-you-use model, which includes a national, contracted network of general practitioners, pharmacies, radiologists, pathologists and other healthcare service providers of more than 12 000, which is pivotal in terms of affordability and outcomes,” says Nauta.

This forward-thinking, pragmatic approach of National HealthCare Group, who is increasingly acknowledged as the provider of choice in the low-cost and emerging segments of the healthcare market, has drawn the attention of some of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders. The National HealthCare Group is backed by, among others, Dr Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital (ARC) and Invenfin, the venture capital arm of Remgro Limited, led by industry giants Dr Johann Rupert and Jannie Durand.

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