Medical aid is a form of insurance that covers the cost of medical services. It is available for foreigners and their family living and working in South Africa but depends largely on the type of visa one has while in the country. Any foreigner who is staying in South Africa for extended periods of time should consider medical aid cover although they can access public health services. The public healthcare system in South Africa is not up to the level of many developed nations and without medical aid cover or travel insurance, a person can only access these public health services or fund their medical care out of their own pocket.
Cost of Healthcare in South Africa
Private healthcare in South Africa is not cheap. The level of private healthcare in South Africa is just as good if not better than many developed nations. In this regard foreigners do not have to fear substandard healthcare if they have the financial means to access private health services and facilities. Even in dollar, pound and euro terms though, South African healthcare can be unaffordable and therefore medical aid should be considered as a necessity for any foreigner residing in South Africa for a prolonged period of time.
Having a baby in a private hospital can easily exceed USD $1,000 and a coronary bypass following a heart attack can cost up to USD $25,000 considering an exchange rate of R8 to $1. This should give any foreigner contemplating an extended stay in South Africa an idea of the cost of private healthcare and whether they can afford to fund this without a medical aid. There is currently no national health insurance and access to private healthcare services is either funded in cash or by medical aid.
Foreigners Applying for a Medical Aid
In order to qualify for medical aid cover, a foreigner has to prove that he/she is in the country legally and will be staying in South Africa for a long period of time. This will require a working visa or residence visa along with a legitimate passport. Having a South African bank account may also be necessary if one is paying the contributions on a monthly basis. Foreign students may also qualify for medical aid cover if he/she can afford it.
A foreigner may not qualify for medical aid cover if he/she is here on a visitor/tourist visa. In these instances a reputable travel insurance with medical cover will suffice for the duration of one’s stay in the country. These insurances will cover the cost of private healthcare and most private hospitals will accept it as a form of guarantee. However, not all private doctors and other private healthcare service providers may accept travel insurance cover. Therefore foreign visitors may have to pay cash and claim back the costs from their travel insurance.
Benefits of Medical Aid for Foreigners
The medical aid benefits for foreigners is the same as those for South African citizens. Treatment for pre-existing conditions may only be covered after a one year waiting period and new medical aid members may have a 3 month general waiting period before being able to use their cover. This waiting period may not apply for medical emergencies. However, the exact terms and conditions need to be clarified with the individual scheme. Medical aids may be available as comprehensive cover that covers in and out-of-hospital costs or hospital plans which cover only hospitalisation. Chronic cover is usually available on both types of plans.
Medical aid is not the same as private medical insurance. In fact medical aid is a superior insurance product to medical insurance available in developed nations. No person can be refused cover despite their medical history although waiting periods may be applicable. Medical aid covers the cost of pregnancy and childbirth provided that a woman is not pregnant prior to joining the scheme. Read more on medical aid for pregnant women. South African medical aids are non-profit organisations unlike their commercial counterparts in many Western countries and it strictly regulated in South Africa. Medical aids cannot refuse lifesaving procedures and treatments, unless it is experimental and without proven clinical efficacy.
Necessity of Medical Aid for Foreigners
Considering the high costs of healthcare in South Africa, any foreigner working and residing in South Africa should consider taking up medical aid cover. Some travel insurances will cover a foreigner for a prolonged period of time but this is usually not for an indefinite period of time. Medical aid cover is not mandatory for an employer to provide for an employee and even when made available, an employer may only cover between 30% to 50% of the monthly contributions. Read more on company medical aid. There are scores of medical aid schemes in South Africa and most provide essentially the same medical benefits for approximately the same cost. Some of these schemes are restricted and only available to members of certain sectors of industry, while other open schemes are available to the general public.
Foreigners need to be aware of the benefits and costs of a medical aid as well as the implications of not having cover. While to some it may be seen as an unnecessary expense, when considering the services available in the public health system, it may then become apparent why medical aid should be considered as a necessity. A registered medical aid broker or the medical aid scheme itself can assist with foreigners in South Africa with joining a scheme and getting the appropriate cover.