June 21, 2018 / 2:28 PM / in a month

South African health minister backs medical insurance changes

CAPE TOWN, June 21 (Reuters) - South Africa’s health minister gave his backing on Thursday to changes that would make medical insurance affordable for most people as the country shifts towards universal health insurance coverage.

The health system in Africa’s most industrialised economy reflects broader racial and societal inequalities more than two decades after white minority rule ended.

Only an estimated 10 percent of South Africa’s population can afford expensive private health care, while a majority of black people queue at understaffed public hospitals that lack critical equipment.

“As it is now generally accepted, the cost of private healthcare is out of the reach of many citizens, even the well-to-do ones,” health minister Aaron Motsoaledi told reporters.

Motsoaledi backed a Medical Schemes Amendment Bill that proposes to abolish a practice known as co-payments, where an insurer pays a portion of a patient’s bill with the rest of the money coming from the patient’s own pocket.

Motsoaledi said the amendment meant that every amount charged to a patient will be fully settled by the scheme so that the sick are not “burdened” with payments.

The measures are also aimed at stopping the practice of using brokers within the medical scheme environment, as well as replacing prescribed minimum benefits for mostly hospital-based conditions with comprehensive service benefits.

These comprehensive service benefits will include primary health care, such as family planning, vaccination and screening services, Motsoaledi said.

Other changes include introducing a system where higher earners subsidise those who are paid less.

“The present contribution table charges the same rate for a lower income earner and a high income earner for the same benefits. This practice completely negates the principles of income cross-subsidisation,” the minister said. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf Editing by James Macharia and Catherine Evans)

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