As the discourse around healthcare equality and accessibility gains momentum in South Africa, the spotlight increasingly turns towards innovative solutions that can bridge the gap between quality medical care and affordability. A significant player in this transformation is the concept of primary healthcare plans, that are distinct from traditional medical schemes, and which have been making waves due to their ability to provide accessible healthcare at a fraction of the cost.

One of the notable advantages of primary healthcare plans is their divergence from the requirement to provide the full set of Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMBs) that conventional medical schemes are obligated to offer. This distinction allows primary healthcare plans to be offered at significantly lower prices, making them an attractive option for a wider range of individuals. This affordability has led to remarkable growth in their adoption over the years, a trend that is gaining momentum with increasing awareness. Primary healthcare plans in particular have resonated with the lower-income earners and young professionals who find them to be a cost-effective alternative to traditional medical aid.

Unity Health stands at the forefront of this paradigm shift, exemplifying the positive trajectory that primary healthcare plans are taking. Witnessing accelerated growth, Unity Health has experienced a surge in subscribers, with a yearly increase of around 25 – 30%, and an even more robust growth forecast of up to 50% in the upcoming year. This growth is complemented by the expansion of Unity’s service provider network, which now boasts an impressive roster of almost 4,000 GPs, 2300 dentists, 450 network optometrists, and 200 hospitals including NHN, Life Healthcare, Netcare, Mediclinic and Clinix, making quality care more accessible across South Africa.

In the broader context of South Africa’s healthcare landscape, the discussion naturally veers toward the National Health Insurance (NHI) initiative. Contrary to concerns that NHI might disrupt primary health insurance, experts suggest a more nuanced outlook as the NHI Bill goes into review with the Council of Provinces. Yet, the long-term sustainability of NHI remains a topic of concern.

South Africa’s population dynamics further fuel the debate. As the country’s population ages and declines, healthcare costs are projected to rise, while the workforce to support those costs diminishes. This scenario raises questions about the viability of funding an NHI program under such circumstances. Foreseeing these challenges, experts suggest a focus on creating efficiencies within the existing health budget, with an emphasis on preventative healthcare, where primary healthcare insurance plays a crucial role.

The urgency of equitable healthcare access is underscored by the strain on public infrastructure, as evident in cases like the recent cholera outbreak. The inadequacy of healthcare facilities necessitated the setup of makeshift hospitals, highlighting the critical need for immediate, quality treatment. In this context, private healthcare professionals become indispensable in providing timely care.

In the quest for a comprehensive solution, the empowerment of individuals with affordable access to private primary care emerges as a crucial aspect. As Unity Health’s growth illustrates, primary healthcare plans hold promise in bridging the gap between healthcare needs and financial constraints. As discussions surrounding healthcare and the NHI unfold, the pursuit of accessible and timely medical attention for all remains an imperative goal, a pursuit that hinges on collaborative efforts and innovative strategies.

Broadcast legend and ENCA News Anchor Dan Moyane sits down with Unity Health CEO Vernon Chorn for a face-to-face conversation about primary care and the future of health insurance in South Africa.

Register for the Unity Health 2024 Product Launch, brought to you by Business Day Dialogues in partnership with Unity Health on 19 September at 10h00:

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