SOUTH AFRICA – Discovery Health Medical Scheme has launched a R1.5 billion (US$86.81m) fund to boost healthcare screenings and preventative care among its members amid a spike in severe diagnoses like late-stage cancer.
Dubbed the Wellth Fund, the medical scheme will allocate each family covered by the scheme up to R10,000 (US$578.76) for screenings and can be used for general healthcare needs, diet, fitness, medical monitoring devices, mental health benefits and a host of other purposes.
Discovery Health CEO, Dr Ryan Noach, said that while the scheme has set aside R1.5 billion (US$86.81m), the total cost will depend on how many people actually use it.
He added that DHMS members will need to activate the Wellth Fund benefit before going for screenings to avoid being paid out from their medical savings accounts.
Noach said this was about starting a movement towards helping people understand the rising health risks in South Africa, which ultimately benefits medical schemes because a healthier member base means fewer claims.
He said the scheme’s return-on-investment analysis showed that for every R1 it invests in the Fund, it can expect to receive a return on investment of about R9 in the long term.
“The dividend that the society gets is a healthier society. The dividend that the scheme gets is lower healthcare costs. Cancer diagnosed in stage one is much more affordable to treat than cancer diagnosed at stage three,” he said.
The Fund will be available for two years, allowing scheme members to continue with these screenings and preventative care appointments until the end of 2024.
It was prompted by the rise in serious illnesses post-Covid-19 as many people skipped doctor visits and routine check-ups during the lockdown, fearing the risk of contracting the virus in hospitals and doctors’ rooms.
DHMS said health screenings among its members decreased by 21% over the last two years. Even screenings for serious conditions like diabetes, breast cancer, cervical and prostate cancers declined by between 10% and 50%.
Noach said that even before the pandemic, the level of health screenings in SA was nowhere where it needed to be. For instance, only 25% of women at the risk age of getting breast cancer were utilising their medical scheme benefits to do routine mammograms.
And because the pre-pandemic screening baseline was so low, after people stopped having health checks during the lockdowns, DHMS and doctors are seeing a spike in people diagnosed with cancer at more advanced stages.
Meanwhile, Discovery’s Futures Data indicates that early detection of these conditions can improve survivors’ lifespans materially. For instance, a 40-year-old diagnosed with early-stage cancer is expected to survive 22 years longer than someone with a late-stage diagnosis.