South Africans are downgrading their medical aids to try save money

In an average year, only 2-3% of Alexander Forbes Health medical aid members change plans – but these figures have more than doubled in the past two years.

In 2018, Alexander Forbes Health saw a 5.2% of their clients making changes to their plans, almost equally up and down. In 2019, there was a 6.7% average, reflecting a 3.8% downgrade and 2.9% upgrade.

The company said that health expenditure inflation in South Africa is rising faster than consumer inflation, and over the past five years has outstripped CPI inflation by up to 4%.

However, the 2019 contribution increases for some schemes are above this long term average, highlighting a concerning trend, said Tracy Janssens, branch head at Alexander Forbes Health.

“We target members we feel are on the wrong plans. This year 8.2% of people listened to our advice instead of our previous success ratio of 5%,” she said.

“On average we saved families R1,630, so people are clearly taking note of where they can save money,” Janssens said.

Janssen said that this is the first year that Alexander Forbes Health has seen a big shift in the number of downgrades – primarily due to the poor economy.

“Even executives have started questioning their medical aid costs, and the feedback to brokers is that it is unaffordable to continue on high cover plans that many people are not using,” she said.

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Janssens said that plans which offer good hospitalisation, with a small day to day benefit are most popular.

“Retrenchments also result in downgrades and we are seeing a lot of people completely cancelling their medical aid,” she said.

“Other trends are that families put their younger, healthier members on lower plans, while blue collar workers keep sick kids covered and remove healthy ones.”

Janssens said many people were choosing income-based plans – capitation plans – which offered primary healthcare services.

“Where people work for corporates that offer more than one medical scheme, we have seen quite a few people switching between the schemes to something which has less lifestyle benefits and more healthcare benefits.

“People are cutting the nice-to-have loyalty and wellness programmes which have associated costs if they are not using the benefits.”

Another trend is people downgrading their medical aid plan and topping it up with gap cover.

“These products are seeing growth, and three to 5% of the people who changed plans added a gap cover product,” she said.

Read: Discovery has seen a big jump in these types of medical claims over the last year

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South Africans are downgrading their medical aids to try save money