Category Healthcare
SUB CATEGORIES General  |  HIV |  Medical Schemes | 

Introducing prepaid vouchers

08 December 2020 Gareth Stokes
Dr Ryan Noach

Dr Ryan Noach

An innovation from one of South Africa’s largest medical scheme administrators will revolutionise how the country’s uninsured gain access to primary healthcare services. Discovery Health is launching a prepaid health platform, accessible to all, with the objective of improved access to affordable, quality healthcare. The solution is aimed at the uninsured segment of the domestic market and will initially be offered in major metropolitan districts in eight of nine provinces. “There are a large number of formally employed who do not have access to any type of medical insurance; they either cannot afford it, or their employers do not offer it,” said Dr Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health, during a pre-launch interview with FAnews.

Pioneering ‘cashless’ healthcare transactions

The Discovery Prepaid Health Platform is an innovative web and WhatsApp-based service through which individuals can transact for prepaid primary healthcare vouchers. From December 2020, individuals will be able to purchase a R300,00 General Practitioner (GP) consultation voucher, which includes any medicines dispensed by the doctor following the consultation. Vouchers, which take the form of a 12-digit numeric code, can be redeemed at any dispensing GP within Discovery Health’s prepaid network. “We have carefully selected the healthcare professionals who will pioneer the offering with us, and we are excited that every person in South Africa will have the opportunity to consult with them,” said Noach. He added that more voucher types will be introduced to the platform through 2021. 

Consumers can access the platform in one of two ways. The first is via a WhatsApp channel through which users can interact using simple text messages and menu selections. This channel requires users to provide a name and surname to create an account, after which they can purchase prepaid vouchers and check their balances on a digital wallet linked to their account. The second channel is via a web-based application, which smartphone owners can link to from their home pages and use in much the same way as other digital applications. It will also be possible for Discovery’s existing medical scheme members to login to their accounts and purchase and ‘gift’ prepaid vouchers to employees, loved ones or other third parties. 

Sharing is caring…

“The solution is designed to appeal to non-insured consumers of private healthcare; but is also highly relevant to our existing medical scheme members who can, within 60 seconds, buy a voucher and share the voucher link with anybody else. A parent might buy for a student away from home; a sibling may buy for a loved one some distance away; an employer for an employee and so on,” said Noach. The voucher recipient can present the voucher at a participating healthcare practitioner to redeem it. 

We asked Discovery to describe the platform in the context of the proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) programme. Noach observed that although the voucher solution aligned with the broad strategic objective of improving the affordability and quality of healthcare, it was unrelated to NHI. “We realise the need for structural change in [the healthcare sector] as well as the need for disruption to improve the accessibility and affordability of really good healthcare,” he said. He noted that the introduction of a prepaid healthcare voucher would not introduce additional compliance hurdles because the voucher simply replaces cash tender for cash services offered by a healthcare professional or healthcare service provider. 

Low income earners seek quality care

Discovery has committed to the infrastructure investment to get the prepaid voucher system up and running at scale. The longer term vision is to find an optimal convergence point where the quality of healthcare service and cost are optimal. “You would think that the lower income market prioritises cost over quality; but this is simply not true,” said Noach. He noted that individuals in this consumer segment were intensely focused on both the quality of care and perceived experience, which explained why they often transacted with private rather than public sector healthcare resources. 

Voucher users will benefit from preferential prices, as opposed to cash users, and a consistent healthcare experience. “Our research indicates that cash prices for private healthcare are highly variable and unpredictable; sometimes consumers pay rates that are up to 80% higher than private medical scheme tariffs and even at those rates experience variable quality with little transparency and accountability from the provider,” said Noach. The prepaid voucher innovation will leverage Discovery Health’s private healthcare networks; deep understanding of the healthcare system; and data analytics capabilities to deliver optimal and quality healthcare to the uninsured market, affordably. “Disruption in the healthcare market is required to improve access and affordability of private healthcare for all South Africans, so that they can choose quality, private primary healthcare when they wish to,” concluded Noach. 

Writer’s thoughts:
The introduction of a prepaid voucher for private primary healthcare services should lead to increased utilisation of the country’s GP network and ensure better outcomes for vulnerable consumers. Could other sectors of the financial services universe benefit from the introduction of  a prepaid voucher system? And might we, one day, see vouchers for a free financial planning or risk management consultation? Please comment below, interact with us on Twitter at @fanews_online or email us your thoughts [email protected].

Quick Polls


How to give affordable and appropriate financial advice to the low income market segment. There is little room on a R50 pm policy for advisers to be remunerated for the time it would it would take to educate & fulfil admin function. What is the solution?


[a] Eliminate non-advice sales / telesales
[b] Implement industry standards for non-advice information
[c] Introduce an insurer-funded pro-bono advice network to low income earners
[d] Reinforce the Policyholder Protection Rules
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