Discovery chief executive Adrian Gore. Photo: Simphiwe Mbokazi.

Johannesburg - South Africa's biggest health insurer, Discovery, said on Thursday its Chinese business was growing fairly slowly but that it expects revenue from premiums to more than triple within five years.

Chief executive Adrian Gore said Ping An Insurance - in which it has a 25 percent stake - wrote premiums worth 320 million renminbi ($53 million) in the year ended June 2013.

That should grow to 1-2 billion remnimbi in three to five years' time, Gore told Reuters.

Health insurance coverage is still very low in China, with most health care spending by wealthy individuals or multinationals buying cover for their staff.

The relatively small market is, however, growing at 30 percent a year, he said.

“In China, the challenge is that the market is forming. It isn't there yet,” Gore said.

“People who often look at China have these explosive growth expectations. I think that is foolish.”

Ping An, China's second-largest insurer by market value, had 170,052 health insurance customers at the end of January, or nearly a third of the market, Discovery said. - Reuters