An open letter to Medical Aids: Make vaccines available, government has failed

By Elise Burns-Hoffman*

Dear Momentum Health,

I am a long time member of a Momentum medical aid scheme; a registered health professional; a medico-legal expert and a specialist consultant to the life/disability risk industry.

For all of the seemingly sensible theory related to why private parties could not purchase and roll out vaccines, the reality is that none of this theory holds water.

Having registered on the government system the moment we could, I have found my honesty in not jerking the system by putting down a hospital name at which I do not work, simply put me further back in the queue. Others who are not even currently practising, let alone are not even health professionals, have received vaccinations while many who need them continue to wait.

Whilst there is no question of the need to hold back for genuine front-liners to go ahead of non-front-liners in the queue, this is not what has played out.

I pay medical aid costs because I value and expect faster and (in South Africa) better, access to health care. It really is time for medical aids to step up and get on with vaccinating those who are able to pay. It is largely irrelevant whether the vaccine is a PMB or not. The need is urgent and those on medical aids seek reasonable access to a vaccine.

It borders on ludicrous that the government system can be rigged and has been abused. It is also unacceptable that those of us who pay medical aid premiums and are also on the HPSCA register cannot get a vaccine in a sensible time period.

Please could you kindly get on with it now and do what you have been contractually mandated and are paid to do in providing proper health benefits and care. The logistics are not complicated. If SA Breweries and Coca Cola can deliver beverages to every corner of South Africa in a day, so too can the vaccines be delivered to sensible venues where the necessary preservation facilities are provided and to which a daily pre-determined number of individuals can travel.

It is time to do what is right.

It is also your responsibility to your members.

  • Elise Burns-Hoffman- Disability, Incapacity and Claims Consultant (B.Sc.OT) Personal Business Coach Certified Mediator. 

Momentum Health Solutions Letter of Reply:

We all agree that apart from treating healthcare workers and members of the public infected with COVID 19, the single most important thing for us to do as a country is to expedite the procurement and safe  administration of an effective vaccine.

Many of the larger medical schemes, including Momentum Medical Scheme, are actively participating in  industry initiatives established to ensure South Africa secures access to sufficient volumes of vaccines and that there is a sensible approach to the roll-out and funding of the vaccination efforts.

There is no doubt that lives could be saved if the procurement, prioritisation and administration of  vaccines were expedited. However, the logistics of a vaccination programme of global scale is not as  simple as one might think. Not in the history of South Africa has a mass vaccination programme been  undertaken or executed, and considering the mutation of the virus, and the complex logistics needed to  ensure deep cold chain storage, we should expect a few challenges along the way. While unfortunate, the  hurdles experienced using the Electronic Vaccination Data System Self Registration Portal were not  intentional and have taught us valuable lessons that will stand us in good stead as we move forward.

Healthcare funders are preparing for the funding of vaccines, while both public and private healthcare  providers identified as vaccination centres are in the process of training staff and gearing up for the safe  administration to prioritised citizens in their respective catchment areas.

Momentum Medical Scheme agrees that health insurers have an important role to play in ensuring that all  members of society receive the vaccine, particularly the most at-risk members of our country. As such, it  is critical that the private and public sectors work together to protect our citizens and ensure that as many  people as possible are vaccinated.

Given that this is a global pandemic, all governments are required to step up to coordinate and manage  the response to the disease in the best way they can. As is the case in other countries, the South African Government has decided that it will source, distribute and oversee the rollout of the vaccination  programme and will therefore be the sole purchaser and distributer of COVID-19 vaccines. Our role, as  private sector healthcare funders, is to support government in its efforts.

Momentum Medical Scheme and our administrator, Momentum Health Solutions, are doing all we can to  provide solutions that will enable funding of the vaccine and reasonable access for members and clients,  and believe it’s vitally important to support government’s equitable roll-out strategy.

We have pledged our support and will continue our collaborative discussions with Government in striving  to ensure the availability of sufficient quantities of an effective vaccine. If we are able to remove  challenges within the distribution process by assisting government, then we can ensure that we are doing  our part in reaching population immunity, which is the ultimate goal. Furthermore, Momentum Medical  Scheme strongly supports the notion that elite citizens should not be prioritised, and the vulnerable who have a greater need for the vaccine need to remain the priority.

Momentum Medical Scheme has set aside sufficient funds to ensure that all Members of the Scheme are  covered for the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available to the broader population.

We remain committed to ensuring that our Members are vaccinated in line with Government’s strategy  and will continue to proactively engage in robust conversations with stakeholders and other parties to  discuss ways in which to procure vaccines to ensure that that the ultimate goal of population immunity is  achieved in South Africa.

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