February 6, 2004

Mbeki: Decade of progress / Government to plan a medical aid revolution

President Thabo Mbeki has hailed great advances made in South Africa since the end of apartheid 10 years ago. In his annual state of the nation address he said the government had delivered on basic needs like housing, electricity and water. However, he admitted there remained challenges to overcome. In his address to MPs, President Mbeki quoted a line from former President Nelson Mandela addressing parliament 10 years ago. "The purpose that will drive this government shall be the expansion of the frontiers of human fulfilment and the extension of the frontiers of freedom." Mr Mbeki then went on to list his government's achievements in attaining those goals. He said that the economy had grown steadily from an inauspicious start and added that the government had provided housing, water and electricity for millions of people, but he acknowledged that more needed to be done to bring them out of poverty. "We have not as yet eradicated the cruel legacy we inherited," he said. His approach to both has been controversial and controversy was something he steadfastly avoided. President Mbeki is expected to announce an election date next week with polls suggesting his ANC could secure another large majority in parliament.

In the meantime a possible change in the health system has been announced. Young and healthy medical aid members could subsidise affordable private health cover for the elderly and chronically ill from next year in a proposed shake-up of the healthcare industry. The proposal will see surpluses from medical aids - unused money from young, healthy members who do not claim - used to fund treatment for high-risk
members. Currently, members considered high risk - older people and those with chronic conditions - pay higher monthly premiums than young, healthy members. The proposed fund - expected to be worth some R2.8-billion - will allow all members to pay the same flat rate for a medical aid package regardless of their risk level. In another development, the state announced its intention to create a single medical aid for the civil service sector. (Sunday Times, Johannesburg)

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