Can pre-paid private healthcare vouchers help South Africans?

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Health insurer, Discovery has launched a digital health innovation offering pre-paid healthcare vouchers.

Discovery Prepaid Health is a web and WhatsApp based platform, which offers any person living in South Africa the chance to buy vouchers towards primary healthcare services in the private healthcare sector, at competitive rates.

The first offering within the Discovery Prepaid Health range of private primary healthcare products is the ZAR300 (US$20) GP doctor consultation voucher, which includes medicines dispensed by the doctor after the consultation. The voucher can be redeemed at any dispensing GP within the Discovery Prepaid Health network.

CEO of Discovery Health Ryan Noach says; “Our vision is that buying prepaid vouchers for high quality private healthcare becomes ubiquitous, akin to buying prepaid airtime for our mobile phones.”

The Discovery Prepaid Health network includes doctors in the major metros within eight of the nine provinces in South Africa, and this will be expanded, with new practices being added daily.

Discovery Prepaid Health is designed to appeal to non-insured consumers of private healthcare, but Discovery Health Medical Scheme customers can buy a voucher and share the voucher link with anybody else. A parent, for example, might buy one for a student away from home; a sibling may buy one for a loved one some distance away; or an employer for an employee.

While only 16% of the population in South Africa has private medical scheme cover, research suggests that up to 50% of the population chooses to access primary healthcare in the private healthcare sector.

Quality of care is critical to this cash market, with consumers choosing to continue to pay to see a trusted healthcare professional only when they feel that the care they receive is excellent. Healthcare visits are frequently funded by a third party, typically a family member or an employer.

Discovery research indicates that cash prices for private healthcare are highly variable, and unpredictable. Sometimes consumers pay rates that are up to 80% higher than private medical scheme tariffs. There is also, at times, variable quality, with little transparency and accountability. A lack of understanding or predictability around the ultimate cost and the quality of a healthcare visit together with the prescribed medicine can cause significant distress.

Research shows that uninsured consumers of private healthcare consider illness as something very incidental and episodic, and would typically defer seeking care for symptoms of illness until more serious symptoms develop. In households with children, adults typically prioritise them for treatment, citing affordability and access constraints as a reason for delayed care to the breadwinners. Some people even find it necessary to take on personal loans to cover healthcare costs.

Discovery Prepaid Health states that it works towards solving these concerns by democratising private primary healthcare that is affordable high-quality care, transparent and simple to access.