Pre-paid healthcare comes to South Africa

Pay-as-you-go, pre-paid healthcare was launched to much acclaim in Gauteng and already healthcare industry stalwarts are extolling its virtues.  
South Africans have long embraced pay-as-you-go cellphone airtime and with new products from Yarona Care, they get to use the very same vehicle to purchase healthcare services for use in times of need. The Yarona Care concept is the brainchild of Bradley Soll of Yarona, the largest independent healthcare provider network in South Africa. To bring the product to the market Yarona has partnered with Makhonya Investments, a Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa-led (Contralesa) investment company. Makhonya Investments has a 26% shareholding in Yarona Care.
Dr Elijah Nkosi, CEO of SPNet, one of South Africa’s largest general practitioner networks said that: “Yarona Care has just made healthcare a great deal more accessible to the man in the street. What is interesting is how simple and practical the concept is. The product has all the elements of a winner – simplicity and ease of use, portability and accessibility.  What more could one want?”   
Yarona Care’s new healthcare products allow patients to see a doctor or dentist and to buy medicines when needed. According to Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa, President of Contralesa: “It is just like using pay-as-you-go airtime on your cell phone. The healthcare voucher is purchased and loaded onto a cellphone and can be used when and where needed. The pre-paid voucher can be kept on a cellphone for as long as a year and can be used or transferred to a family member or friend in need of healthcare services. That is how easy it is to access healthcare when you need it the most.”
“We have seen all kinds of pay-as-you-go products launched in recent years, but this is the first time we have seen this type of offering in healthcare,” says Mr Holomisa. “It is so convenient and cost-effective everyone is already wondering why the idea had not been thought of until now. These are products for the people, providing easy access to doctors and other kinds of healthcare at a reasonable cost.”
Nine products on offer

Bradley Soll, Managing Director of Yarona Care, explains that there is at present a range of nine products on offer, which will be gradually rolled out across South Africa over the next twelve months.

"The Yarona pre-paid voucher allows patients to see participating doctors or dentists who will then redeem the cellphone voucher and provide the necessary healthcare services. Products such as Impilo Go offer a visit to the doctor plus seven days worth of medicine for just R230. Impilo One offers the user medicine for as little as R100. Eyona Go, on the other hand, covers dental consultations and either one extraction or filling or alternatively scaling and polishing at an affordable R330."
Once the purchaser wants to use their product, they go to their doctor, dentist or other provider, and by dialling in a code on their cellphone, they can show the provider the services they have purchased. This automatically entitles the patient to access the service purchased. It’s as easy as can be – the patient cashes in a voucher at the doctor by inputting the provider’s unique practice number and Yarona Care pays the provider for the services rendered.
His Royal Heritage Zolani Mkiva, National Executive Director of Contralesa and Chairman of Makhonya Investments, notes that the overwhelming majority of South Africans do not have healthcare cover and that this is an untenable situation that has been allowed to continue for too long.

Vouchers are easy to transfer

"No matter how dire their financial situation most people will pay cash to see a doctor or dentist at one time or another. Indeed, recently conducted research has indicated that as many as 5.2 million households in South Africa are paying cash to access healthcare services of some or other kind. The new Yarona Care pay-as-you-go products are especially suitable for these households. Those medical aid members who have run out of their day-to-day medical aid benefits will also find the products a useful way of accessing value-for-money healthcare."
“Some of us want to buy healthcare for our children, parents or workers,” continues Zolani Mkiva. “Yarona Care’s products are ideal for passing on to others because the vouchers are easily transferable from cellphone to cellphone. The system will also appeal to many employers who would like to provide healthcare benefits to their employees.”
“I would like to encourage those who can afford to do so to buy healthcare vouchers for their staff. This will not only improve relationships and worker morale but it will improve productivity as healthy workers are happy and productive.”    
One of the reasons why the services can be provided so reasonably is because Yarona has long had excellent relationships in place with doctors, dentists and other healthcare providers throughout South Africa. These working partnerships and excellent, long-term relationships form the core of the service offering as providers have agreed to treat medical conditions at a set rate. Visit one of these providers and they will render the required services by redeeming the pre-paid healthcare vouchers. In so doing there will be no need for cash to change hands at any time.   
“This is much safer for doctors and their patients – both of whom have in recent times fallen victim to crime,” says Dr Elijah Nkosi.  
Yarona Care has decided to use the cellphone as a means of delivering its product because of its growing popularity. There are at present more than 40 million cellphones users in the country and the technology is well understood and fully embraced by young and old alike.
“South Africans have for some time now been looking for ways they can easily use and afford doctors and other healthcare providers,” concludes Dr Nkosi. “Well this is it. To my mind this is a revolutionary product that will at last make healthcare accessible to our communities into the future.”

(Press release, November 2010)

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