HEALTH FIRST

Increase public awareness about medical insurance in 2020

Most people don’t know why it’s important to buy medical insurance, how it works.

In Summary
  • As stakeholders in the medical insurance space, we need to make 2020 the year that medical insurance becomes more accessible to Kenyans.
  • A number of initiatives have been taken in the past with varying levels of success.
Patients at Msambweni Referral Hospital on December 17, 2015.
Patients at Msambweni Referral Hospital on December 17, 2015.
Image: FILE

It is unacceptable that access to medical cover is still out of reach for many Kenyans. According to a World Bank study, four out of every five Kenyans lack access to medical cover. This is a worrying statistic in view of the rising cost of medical care today. The cost is rising partly because of the increased prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension that require specialised treatment, sometimes for the remainder of someone’s life.

As the cost of quality healthcare goes higher, more and more Kenyans who lack medical cover will find themselves slipping into poverty due to medical bills that inevitably arise within the family. The Ministry of Health contends that medical bills are currently the biggest cause of poverty, forcing many families without adequate cover to burn through their savings, sell off their assets or turn to debt to fight an illness.

As stakeholders in the medical insurance space, we need to make 2020 the year that medical insurance becomes more accessible to Kenyans. A number of initiatives have been taken in the past with varying levels of success.

This includes restructuring premiums to make them more affordable to mid and low-income earners, including pairing insurance products with premium financing products. The use of mobile phones, which has helped ease access to other financial products such as savings and loans, has also been instrumental in accelerating medical insurance coverage.

Phones have emerged as a strong channel for enrolment, premium collection, customer servicing, and claims processing. In the public sector, the government has also piloted universal health coverage in a number of counties, allowing beneficiaries with cards to access quality health without financial strain.

These efforts, while commendable, have not been sufficient to tip the scales. This is because one critical element is missing – public awareness about medical insurance. Most people don’t know why its important to buy medical insurance and how it works, including those who have it courtesy of their employers.

Annual medical checkups reduce the cost of treatment in the long term by allowing for early detection and treatment of diseases. Nutrition and wellness are also increasingly important aspects of good health, as urban living has consigned many to a sedentary lifestyle with limited physical exercise, poor dietary patterns and poor work-life balance.

Employer’s coverage is good, but rarely enough. Check the cost of a week’s inpatient medical care in a good hospital and then compare it with your company’s coverage. Often one needs to top up in the event you or one of your beneficiaries need care.

It is time to have these conversations with the formally employed. They comprise about 10 per cent of the country’s work force—according to data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) – but are critical in terms of influencing purchasing decisions of the rest of the work force.

Medical underwriters therefore need to partner with corporates, many of which have already bought policies for their permanent and contract workers. These renewed partnerships should look at ways of empowering formally employed Kenyans with information on how to expand their cover or get a cover for loved ones who are not in their list of dependants, such as their parents and relatives in the village.

It is also important to have similar conversations with Kenyans in the informal sector, though the tactics used to engage this segment must be different. Most Kenyans working in the informal sector find it difficult to buy a product whose immediate benefit cannot be felt. This outlook needs to change through well targeted public awareness campaigns supported by a cross-section of stakeholders such as insurers, micro-finance firms, health centers, the media and relevant government agencies.

As part of this awareness campaign, it is also important that we stress other important but easily overlooked aspects of medical coverage, such as packages that support annual checkups and provide access to nutrition and wellness consultants.

Annual medical checkups reduce the cost of treatment in the long term by allowing for early detection and treatment of diseases. Nutrition and wellness are also increasingly important aspects of good health, as urban living has consigned many to a sedentary lifestyle with limited physical exercise, poor dietary patterns and poor work-life balance.

This kind of information needs to be made available to the public systematically and at scale in order for all Kenyans to appreciate the benefits of medical coverage and make the decision to buy a policy or expand their existing coverage.

Insurance companies also need to work closely with their agents and train them on how to present the benefits of insurance in a compelling and professional way. The agent is the primary point of contact that most people have with an insurance company.

Empowering agents is something that we at AAR Insurance have taken seriously, having formally trained at least 1500 agents since 2016 with professional sales skills.