VICTORIA Falls — Several medical aid societies face closure after thousands of formally employed workers were made redundant following the July 17 Supreme Court ruling that gave employers the right to fire workers on three months’ notice.

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parirenyatwa

Minister of Health David Parirenyatwa

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In the upwards of 20 000 workers, most of them on medical aid cover, lost their jobs after companies stampeded to use the Supreme Court ruling to reduce their workforce in order to remain viable in an economy that remains in perpetual freefall.

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Four medical aid societies have collapsed since September last year owing to viability challenges and the position of those still in business was recently threatened a shrinking base of subscription contributions.

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Medical aid societies fundamentally survive on monthly contributions from their members and require volumes in order to remain viable as well as benefit from economies of scale.

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Zimbabwe’s 27 medical aid societies, affiliated to the Association of Healthcare Funders of Zimbabwe (AHFoZ) that collectively cover about 1,3 million people, are praying for nothing short of a miraculous turn around in the country’s economic fortunes for them to survive.

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Last week, AHFoZ chief executive officer, Shylet Sanyanga indicated that ongoing job losses were causing serious discomfort on membership, a situation that would in the long run affect the performance of healthcare funders.

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The full impact of the job losses triggered by the Supreme Court ruling will be felt by the end of the year when those that lost their jobs would be officially out of employment.

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Medical aid societies have since indicated that employer organisations have already gave notice that they would be terminating contributions of some of its workers who have been given three months’ notices.

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“The job losses raise fears that gains in the healthcare sector may be lost as some people will no longer be able to afford healthcare. Some patients on chronic drugs may fail to adhere to treatment regimes and some may simply default treatment,” said.

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Sanyanga while addressing AHFoZ members in the resort town of Victoria Falls who had gathered for a two-day indaba under the theme: “Healthcare in Zimbabwe: Back to the Future.”

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Also threatening medical aid societies is the fact that a number of companies have introduced cost cutting measures, which include freezing of posts as well as slashing of salaries, a situation that may lead to some people opting out of medical aid schemes.

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The imminent untenable situation would force patients no longer on medical aid to explore other unconventional options to deal with their health problems, which would include consulting traditional healers and faith healers while some would simply despair and surrender to fate. The situation would also increase the use of smuggled unregistered or expired drugs.

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Medical aid societies could however, enhance their chances of survival by reducing costs in order. The healthcare sector has experience high costs, with, for example, claims costs, in the last three years, having significantly risen.

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Last year, AHFoZ members paid U$399 million to various service providers. The biggest chunk of US$146 million, accounting for 36 percent, went to private hospitals.

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The variance in the price of drugs in the pharmacies is another cause for concern among healthcare funders. For example the same drug may cost US$4 in one pharmacy and US$80 in another, while some general practitioner’s consultation fees range from US$5 to US$50, a situation that unnecessarily pushes up costs.

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Abuse of medical aid is also on the increase, being perpetrated by either patients or providers or both, leading to rising healthcare costs.

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Some Zimbabweans living along the country’s borders are reportedly subscribing to medical aid schemes in countries such as South Africa, Botswana and Zambia to avert paying high subscriptions locally.

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Chairperson of the Parliamentary portfolio committee on health and childcare, Ruth Labode, said it was high time Zimbabwe stopped corruption to lure investors into the country to avert further deterioration of the economy.

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“We need to stop blaming Western sanctions for our economic failures; nobody owes us anything. We need to stamp out corruption and institute investor friendly economic policies,” said Labode.

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She emphasised that the country still needed to deal with its politics including its contentious succession matrix so that people can co-exist.

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