South Africa’s medical aid schemes have also set aside funds to finance the country’s much-expected Covid-19 vaccine rollout. Photo: File
South Africa’s medical aid schemes have also set aside funds to finance the country’s much-expected Covid-19 vaccine rollout. Photo: File

Medical schemes set for vaccine rollout

By Given Majola Time of article published Jan 12, 2021

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DURBAN - SOUTH Africa’s medical aid schemes have also set aside funds to finance the country’s much-expected Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

The country’s biggest medical aid scheme, Discovery Health, said that the sector had ring-fenced at least R7 billion to ensure that its members received the vaccine as soon as it was made available in South Africa.

For Discovery’s members the vaccine has now been made a prescribed minimum benefit, which means all medical aid schemes in the country are now obliged to fund the cost of vacination for their members.

Discovery chief executive Ryan Noach said that members would be charged at a higher-than-cost price for the private sector and the surplus would be used to subsidise the public sector.

“The medical scheme’s role is to ultimately end up funding about 30 percent of the South African cost of the vaccination,” Noach told a television interview.

“Our best estimates are that it will not cost more than R7 billion to the medical schemes industry.

“Now while that sounds like a lot of money, it is actually a small percentage, about 2 percent of gross annual premium income and as a result quite affordable for medical schemes.

Last week the government announced that the country would have its first batch of 1 million vaccinations this month.

The government has said that the funding for the vaccine would be sourced from its funds. Discovery Medical Aid said it was important that all vaccines be approved by the SA Health Product Regulatory Authority before they are rolled out.

It said the approval process required strong collaboration between public and private stakeholders.

The group said the cost of procuring vaccines in the agreed pricing arrangement was for 7.1 million medical scheme members in South Africa.

Last week, Bonitas said that it was also committed to funding the vaccination of its members.

Principal officer Lee Callakoppen said Bonitas was financially stable and sound enough to cover the cost.

“We want to reassure our members and beneficiaries that we will fund the vaccine and continue to fund testing and treatment of the coronavirus in line with the prevailing regulations,” said Callakoppen, adding that the entire treatment process for Covid-19, from testing and treatment through to the vaccine, had been added to its list of benefits.

“This means that as a medical scheme, this is covered from the risk benefits. We are committed to ensuring (that) our members have access to a vaccine as soon as it becomes available and in line with the agreed vaccine strategy. Members will have access to the vaccine, no matter what plan they are on.”

The move by medical aid schemes comes as the country’s pharmaceutical companies also said that they were ready to assist in the rolling out of the vaccine.

Dis-Chem and Clicks, which already control 45 percent of the country’s dispensary market share, said they had enough experience to speed-up the rollout.

Clicks chief commercial officer Rachel Wrigglesworth said: “We have nurses and pharmacists in stores poised to support the implementation and we have cold chain storage and cold chain distribution capability.

“We are in discussions with the relevant parties, but we are not in a position to comment further until there is clarity on how the programme will work.”

Dis-Chem said that it was already planning to add the administration of vaccines to Covid-19 drive-through testing sites.

National clinic manager Lizeth Kruger said the vaccine distribution would be part of the normal distribution process. “Dis-Chem is already in communication with the Department of Health, but has not confirmed the procedure, quantity and availability of Covid-19 vaccines,” said Kruger.

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