This is how medical aid schemes will help to fund SA’s vaccines

As the country races to acquire vaccines to immunise 67% of the population to achieve herd immunity by the end of this year, a co-financing plan has been developed by the government, medical aid schemes and businesses.

So far, the Solidarity Fund — a platform for the public, civil society, and the public and private sectors to contribute to the consolidated effort to fund various initiatives — has paid R283-million to secure vaccines for the first 10% of the population through the Covax programme

These funds represent only 15% of the total cost, but Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the outstanding amount to be paid had been allocated. 

Now the medical aid schemes have stepped in. Ryan Noach, the chief executive of Discovery Health, told the Mail & Guardian that the medical aid schemes would purchase the vaccines for more than their standard price. The surplus generated from those purchases will be used to cross-subsidise non-insured South Africans. 

Noach said, according to their calculations, the medical aid schemes cover about 15% of the population. The vaccine is a prescribed minimum benefit, and all medical aid schemes will pay for the vaccines from their risk funds, said Noach.  

The surplus money will help to cover individuals who are not insured. That is, for each person who belongs to a medical aid scheme who is immunised, an uninsured person will also be covered. This will represent another 15% people who will be able to be inoculated. Combined with the 10%, the Solidarity Fund has already paid for, about 40% of the population has been budgeted for. 

This co-funding model for the vaccines was announced by Mkhize on Sunday during a briefing about how the government would expedite vaccine availability for South Africans. 

The minister said the government has embarked on a public-private partnership “with very good outcomes and we have approached medical aids to be part of the co-financing”. 

For insurance holders, Noach said the cost of the vaccine is already covered by their premiums. 

Despite the medical aid schemes’ efforts, 27% of the population still needs to be financially covered in terms of access to the vaccine.

The government has put together a vaccine-acquisition task team to solve this problem. The task team is mandated to assist the country in pooling additional financial resources to purchase available Covid-19 vaccines. 

The task team will be chaired by Adrian Gore, the founder of Discovery Limited, a medical insurer. Other members include Sandile Zungu, the president of the Black Business Council; Lex Cochrane, who is in the private sector; the department of health’s technical adviser on the National Health Insurance, Dr Aquina Thulare; chair of the vaccine advisory committee, professor Barry Schoub; and Dr Anban Pillay, the deputy director-general at the department of health.

Stavros Nicolaou, the head of the health workgroup for Business for South Africa (B4SA), said the organisation is looking for other solutions that can help to fund the remaining population. 

He said that mining houses have clinics and in-house capability, and have already indicated that they will purchase the vaccine to inoculate their employers and their family members. But Nicolaou said that this is yet to be finalised formally. 

Nicolaou added that the organisation is looking for other means through which businesses can make financial contributions. Nicolaou said identifying such mechanisms is part of the discussions in which the task team is participating. 

Beyond this, Nicolaou said it is essential that the vaccination of South Africans is co-ordinated, cohesive and transparent.

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Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.

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