Home » Opinion piece: The rise of affordable medical insurance – reaching the masses with quality healthcare services

Opinion piece: The rise of affordable medical insurance – reaching the masses with quality healthcare services

By Sandra Sampson, Director at Allmed Healthcare Professionals

by Tia

With its two-tiered, highly unequal healthcare system, only 14.86% of South Africa’s population can currently afford private healthcare, and rising costs are making it difficult for many to keep paying their monthly medical aid premiums. There are plans to implement National Health Insurance (NHI) to fund healthcare in the public and private sectors, although this process which began in August 2011 has been slow, and the NHI Bill is still under consideration in the National Assembly. Despite concerns about the state’s ability to implement the NHI effectively and competently, delivering quality medical care to the population must continue to be a priority for every healthcare provider. This is where a specialist Temporary Employment Services (TES) provider can assist – delivering a flexible, competent, quality workforce on demand for institutions in both the public and private sectors.

Increasing access to quality healthcare

The public healthcare sector is primarily intended to serve those who are unable to access private medical aid and is currently accessible to all, regardless of immigration status or nationality. Significant funding is a massive drawcard for specialists in the private sector, which has resulted in a widening gap between public and private healthcare facilities in much of the country. The impending NHI is intended to address this gap and enable greater access to specialist care and more free services for all, while improving the quality of public healthcare by establishing a national fund that will allow for the purchasing of healthcare services on behalf of users. Estimates for funding this national health initiative range from R165bn to R450bn, and the government has been given the go-ahead by the Gauteng High Court to continue its recruitment drive before the bill has even passed.

Access starts with affordability

In line with this move, affordable healthcare insurance is on the rise. This trend starts with partnerships between healthcare and financial services providers, and has already been seen in the likes of Dischem, Clicks and Tyme Bank’s TymeHealth, all offering medical insurance, enabling access to high-quality healthcare specialists to a market that was previously woefully under-serviced. As the demand for quality healthcare increases, there will be a proportionate increase in the need for healthcare professionals.

Practical resourcing alternatives

It is not economically or practically feasible for healthcare institutions (whether in the private or public sector) to hire more medical professionals permanently, which means they will have to explore other resourcing options. This is becoming increasingly difficult in South Africa, as many skilled medical staff are seeking work elsewhere as a result of poor working conditions created by loadshedding, corruption, and incompetent administration. Although the Department of Home Affairs has added new skills to our country’s critical skills list (many of which include medical practitioners and individual specialisations) the healthcare industry is still severely understaffed. Hospital groups are only growing more frustrated with the government’s inability to address the decreasing number of medical practitioners, particularly nurses. The Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA) has reported that nurses in the country are reaching retirement age without the necessary inflow of younger employees. In 2020, there were more than 21,000 nurses in training, but South Africa still needs as many as 26,000 additional nurses to meet the growing demand.

Meeting the demand flexibly

TES providers in the healthcare sector have the potential to meet the demand of healthcare institutions for nurses and specialists, without these institutions having to commit to the responsibilities and costs associated with full-time employment. TES providers are on hand to supply the vetted and highly-skilled workers so desperately needed. Every healthcare institution can be supplied with the resources necessary on a shift-by-shift basis. So, if, for example, there is a deficit of five ICU nurses at a certain hospital, a TES provider can meet this with very short notice. If, on the other hand, patients are discharged or rerouted, these additional nurses can be cancelled at short notice, and the TES provider picks up the hospital’s slack and answers it with flexible resources on demand. Additionally, when it comes to meeting the fluctuating demand for speciality staff, a TES partner will become indispensable.

Equitability and affordability depend on agility

Ultimately, regardless of when the NHI comes to fruition, healthcare institutions should begin partnering with a TES provider if they haven’t already. Along with providing medical professionals on demand, this comes with cost-saving benefits for the hospital or clinic. Not having to employ full-time staff to meet fluctuating needs is a cost-saving exercise. Not only from a wage standpoint but also from an HR perspective in terms of payroll, industrial relations and skills development. The TES partner is responsible for all aspects of the employment relationship, while the healthcare institution gains access to qualified healthcare professionals as needed, at a fixed rate on flexible terms. This means that as soon as hospitals decide to invest in making their wards and spaces bigger and more efficient, they will have access to the medical resources necessary to staff them in a manner that enables equitable access to quality healthcare.

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