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Healthcare access non-negotiable as final pandemic regulations are repealed

30 June 2022 National HealthCare Group
Dr Reinder Nauta, Executive Chairperson at National HealthCare Group

Dr Reinder Nauta, Executive Chairperson at National HealthCare Group

Well managed companies reaping rewards of lowered absenteeism levels

As more and more South Africans return to the workplace, following the recent removal of the last remaining COVID-19 regulations, high-performing companies are seizing the opportunity to reengineer broken and outdated systems while investing in strengthening their human capital.

This is according to Dr Reinder Nauta, executive chairperson at National HealthCare Group, who notes that absenteeism remains one of the most costly challenges faced by business, affecting productivity, efficiency, and profitability with the potential to erode the bottom line of even the best run companies.

“Absenteeism rates vary from sector to sector, and there are multiple reasons behind this. In South Africa, where the vast majority of employees do not have access to quality healthcare services, poorly managed health is unquestionably a leading cause for high levels of absenteeism,” he says.

Statistics compiled by Top 500 Elite published in November 2020 indicate that the South African national economy at the time faced annual costs of R15 billion directly related to soaring levels of absenteeism.

“With as much as 15%, or more than six million people, taking sick leave each day on average this equates to a great many empty chairs and desks, factories and production lines. In financial terms, companies are picking up the bill with absenteeism-related costs including alternative sources of labour such as additional wages paid to temporary employees or overtime for existing staff who are picking up the slack. Worse still, incomplete or delayed work can come at a high reputational price, along with opportunity costs on future work,” he says.

Dr Nauta points out that at a human level, the knock-on effect of unchecked absenteeism on other employees and departments can include measurable responses such as decreased productivity, less care taken and more mistakes made, and higher levels of staff turnover and investment in training.

“It is not uncommon for an employee to miss an entire day of work waiting in the queue at their closest clinic simply to have a check-up and receive their chronic medication, and this is in many cases happening on a monthly basis amongst workforces of hundreds or thousands of employees.

“Then there are those employees whose health is not even being managed at this level, who are missing days of work at a time due to undiagnosed conditions and ill health, and whose very wellbeing is in danger. Either way, it paints a bleak picture.”

Nauta notes that it is not all gloom and doom and that due to the high demand for access to quality healthcare services many new and innovative products are emerging that can improve and even save the lives of those who benefit. Furthermore, such private healthcare access does not necessarily have to include all the elements that have historically made it so prohibitively expensive, he says.

“Well-managed companies who are serious about the productivity, as well as the health and wellbeing of their employees, have found that it makes financial sense to provide healthcare cover to staff members across the board.

“If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that employers cannot afford to allow staff members to be without quality primary healthcare any longer. Access to efficient, quality healthcare results in more proactive behaviour, faster employee recovery times and a speedier return to work.

“Case studies drawn from the experience of National HealthCare Group clients on absenteeism management in South Africa have shown that easy access to quality primary healthcare services can reduce sick days by as much as 50% over a six-month period. In addition, the 27% monthly savings achieved in healthcare expenditure really illustrates the value of a primary healthcare-focused approach.

“As borne out by the experience of at least four different businesses – all of varying sizes and in totally different sectors of the market – we have been able to deliver impressive results. For example, absenteeism has been reduced by as much as 35% in some instances, while savings per employee per month ranging between 25% to 38% have been achieved.

According to Dr Nauta, such success rates hinge on ease of use in how healthcare funding products are packaged and what results they can deliver for the end user. “A blanket approach in terms of healthcare cover is not best suited to the diverse and changing needs of the healthcare market in our country. Instead, a more modularised offering can address fundamental healthcare needs effectively while dramatically reducing costs. This begins at a primary care level and forms the foundation of a solid healthcare framework in providing a realistic forerunner to the NHI.

“Employers seeking practical solutions with low barriers to implementation can look at a solution such as an employer-funded reimbursement account consisting of an administration fee-based model provided in partnership with an independent network of thousands of healthcare providers.

“This model can and does work in multiple industries, assisting employers to provide cover for the entire staff base and address growing corporate governance concerns. For many, this is a significant and necessary shift from only seeing a few employees covered to experiencing greater access across the board with the result of reduced absenteeism and much-improved employee health and morale,” Nauta concludes.

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