Inside Covid-19: R249pm medical aid for 1.2m household workers; Black tobacco farmers say Govt supporting crooks. Ep 39

In Episode 39 of Inside Covid-19, Discovery and its partners combine to provide a R249 per month medical aid for 1.2m household workers; an emotional chairman of the country’s black tobacco farmer association who says his members are being put out of business by a Government whose cigarette ban supports criminals; Biznews’s partners at the Wall Street Journal get the real story on why Donald Trump is sterilising the World Health Organisation; and in the wake of Covid-19 and president Cyril Ramaphosa’s call for a $200bn debt standstill for Africa, we take a close look at mushrooming Emerging Market loans. – Alec Hogg

In the Covid-19 headlines today:

  • South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa announced Tuesday evening that places of worship may resume services provided the gatherings are limited to 50 people, with all having to practice social distancing and wear face masks. Religious leaders are also now being recognised as essential workers. Ramaphosa said he has also heeded the call for a national day of prayer which will be held this Sunday, May 31 for the nation to come together and pray for the healing of South Africa and the protection of its people.
  • Total deaths in the United States went past 100,000 today with worldwide mortalities rising above 350,000. Total cases of coronavirus are now over 5.6m of which 42% have recovered. South Africa reported 52 deaths on Monday, by far the highest for a single day, but probably more reflective of the low numbers for the weekend rather than a sudden surge. Almost 500 South Africans have now been killed by the virus, equivalent to 2% of total confirmed infections of 23,615.
  • US share prices rose by over 2% on Tuesday on optimism about the re-opening of economies and the potential development of a coronavirus vaccine. American stocks have now risen more than 30% from their trough in late March. With the number of new infections in the US now having peaked, even the worst sectors are starting to see green shoots with restaurant bookings and spending on hotels and air travel picking up. The UK has laid out plans for the reopening of retail stores while Italy re-opened its bars and restaurants over the weekend. Investors are also betting that one of at least 10 coronavirus vaccines will be successful, with Novavax the latest to announce the start of human trials.

As we go into level 3 they’re going to be a lot of people coming back to work, 1.2 million housekeepers, gardeners or caregivers who have been at home away from the employers. Welcome to Nonku Pitje, head of employee health solutions at Discovery. You have just introduced something, it’s quite phenomenal. Take us through it.

Thanks Alec. I’m super excited, we do a lot of things at work but this is something that’s really close to my heart because I believe that for the first time there is a real solution that is affordable but solves a real need in terms of providing private health care for household employees. We see them as extensions of our homes, domestic worker, your gardener and your caregiver but it hasn’t always felt like it’s accessible and affordable to be able to provide them with this. At a very high level in terms of a summary, this is basic private health care called Discovery Primary Care for Households. It’s priced at R249 and for that you get unlimited nurse visits, limited GP consultations, medication, dentistry, optometry, HIV management, flu vaccine just to name a few things in that basket. It is a really powerful offering that employers that have been seeking a solution and have thought there’s no solution or an affordable solution can really invest meaningfully for their household employees.

Has this been brought about by Covid-19? 

No, we’ve been offering Discovery Primary Care to employers for probably the past 3½ years. We focused initially on offering it to corporate employers, we’re new in the game and we wanted to learn and understand the journey. There are many employers that have come along with us in this journey, we thought now it was the right time to be able to provide it at another level and a broader scale. What is quite powerful is that we’ve really learned so much, making sure that the access points are easy, about making sure that an employee is never asked to copay or pay out of pocket when they’re in this health care journey. At this point in time, we’re ready to make it accessible and more broadly available to the masses.

There is no doubt with Covid-19, when people do come back to work, housekeepers, gardeners, caregivers and the like that there is a higher risk.

There’s a risk if you are going to work and you are engaging with that with people. The risks exist whether you are big corporate or you coming into a household as a household employee. We’ve definitely responded to the Covid need, to not do so would almost feel criminal. Just like we have done in the medical scheme in terms of this health insurance product there are few things that we’re doing that we think will really support employers and employees in the household that come back. One is that we’re going to provide a pre-screening, an employer or the employees themselves will have access to prescreening. We are also going to be able to support with a virtual consult should the prescreening come out as at risk and we’re doing this with our relationship with Vodacom and Discovery in terms of a virtual consult, free of charge that will be available to all household employees on this product. In addition to that what we’ve also done is we’ve built a basket of care that responds to Covid-19 within the product. We pay for certain tests and we pay for a basket of treatment. We are responding and we want to support. We are also dropping the waiting period in this regard for Covid-19 specific issues and illnesses to a month, our general waiting period is 3 months but for this in particular we want to make sure that we can support as quickly as possible be part of the solution in terms of prevention education and treatment.

If you have a housekeeper who is not coming back to work, if you pay R249 a month, for that housekeeper will be covered not just Covid-19 but into the future as well?

Primarily for R249 you will get the unlimited nurse visits, unlimited GP, dentistry, optometry, HIV management and treatment wellness screenings that would be similar to glucose cholesterol etc, as well as a flu vaccination. Over and above that in response to Covid-19, at any point in time where you feel at risk or that you’ve been exposed to the virus, you will also have cover. As I said that cover will include screening will include testing for positive cases and will also include a basket of care in terms of treatment that the GP will be able to levy for you. Knowing how much one consults for GP costs under the normal circumstances, at least upwards of R450, I think you’ll agree with me that for R250 and the ability to just be able to help people on an ongoing basis around any health care needs, Covid being one of them that’s top of mind, it is really quite a powerful value proposition.

How is this affordable from your side?

We’ve worked over the past 3½  years with our teams to understand experiences, we’ve been able to understand how people unlock access into private health care or don’t or are unable to and we’ve been able to understand the price points. In addition to that, we’ve worked exceptionally hard on our networks. We have provider agreements with pharmacies with nurses within the pharmacy, with GP around the country with dentists, optometrists and so on. We’ve been able to understand firstly the patterns of how people use health insurance products because of what we’ve learned but in addition to that we’re leveraging our relationships and our networks to negotiate the best rates in order to create this access. It’s been incredible. People have come to the party, we all understand that the healthcare system is overburdened now that we face with Covid-19. A lot of these providers have come to the party in a meaningful way with great rates in order for us to be able to do this at scale.

And it’s only for household employees?

Yes, we have a Discovery Primary health care product that is available for all employees in the country of any company that is priced in a particular way and has benefits that are focused on that kind of employee. For household employees we have tailor-made this product having done a lot of research around what is required and what is needed, what takes household employees away from work for a very long period of time. We’ve picked those key benefits and we’ve put them into this. This particular product is available for any household employee in the country, purchase for them hopefully by their employer. Then we do have for an employer that have a corporate or a company of 10 or more members they can talk to us about a Primary Care Product that’s available for them.

With people who live off the premises, now coming into the family environment presumably there is a greater risk to a family unit of Covid-19 entering the area?

Your point is very important around the fact that if any employee including a household employee that travels on a daily basis in two different environments like the home and then work environment in terms of exposure, the exposure is probably increased. I think as our household employees come back, we are a bit nervous and I guess that’s natural for anyone, the screening benefit came to feature only in the last few days as we started to apply our minds to, when people come back what kind of support can we provide so that an employer feels more supported and the employee feels more confident to come back, both of them know that the risk is low. Another example of the thinking we’ve done and what we’ve also introduced in telephonic consultations, at first with nurses that can escalate to a doctor for primary care in particular. We’ve done this because we know that if your household employee starts to show any type of symptoms not just Covid specific we get frontline nurses to do screening to do support and then to navigate you into the relevant care and we’ll continue to think like this as we understand how this is playing out. Of course, there’s a risk. If a person travels every day, the risk probably feels like it’s greater. We support that and will we continue to think about how we can support it. 

Are you suggesting that everyone in the home with masks?

No, we are working with our clinical team and we have some that are now focused and have been working with an ICD, understanding the guidelines and bringing them to ground level. There are no suggestions around everybody wearing mucks in the household. However, if a household employee or anybody in the household happens to be exposed to the virus or is confirmed to have Covid-19 then we do go through a process of explaining confirmed cases, what does isolation mean, how are you able to isolate yourself in your own home, how are you able to explain this to your family. If you think you exposed but you haven’t been confirmed to be positive we’ll take you through the quarantine guidelines and processes. Additional value add is a funeral cover. All household employees on this product will get a funeral cover of R5,000 if you cover the main member but you can cover children who have a different outlay. While this is focused on out of hospital, day to day cover required to really optimise hopefully the home in terms of getting the people treated and back at home quickly. We also have trauma cover. What we found with our Discovery Primary Care product was that in 90% of the time corporates take the Primary Care product and the Trauma Cover. Trauma cover says if there’s an accident, drowning, burn, for a select number of events that we’ve identified you can get up to R300,000 or alternatively a cover for an R1m. We’ve seen how powerful this can be, if you are in a taxi accident as an example, being able to be taken to a private hospital facility being investigated and then being treated before you’re released. We found that this is a really powerful mechanism that employers are using in order to retain as well as look after their employees.

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