Discovery Health Turns 25 This Year: The Story of SA’s Leading Medical Aid

discovery health

In March 2017, the JSE-listed health and protection giant celebrated its 25th birthday, and, by all accounts, the Discovery Group has surpassed expectations.

Here we consider how Discovery Health got started and what propelled it into the position of South Africa's leading medical aid provider.

From small insurer to multi-division behemoth

A few months after formal negotiations for a democratic South Africa had begun, visionary Adrian Gore founded Discovery Limited on the 10 March 1992.

Seven years later, and following several mergers and acquisitions, the medical aid provider listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

Discovery has since diversified into the life assurance, short-term insurance, and the savings and investment sectors. Today, the group has subsidiaries in the UK, USA, China, Australia, Singapore and Japan. It provides 8 000 jobs across the world, counts 6 million people as loyal customers and boasts a total income stream of more than R50 billion per year.

We explore the core features that – in less than three decades – have transformed a small specialist insurer into one of the leading financial services groups in the world.

Innovative medical aid products

Discovery Health was the first scheme to introduce the medical savings account. It’s also credited with developing and deploying the first rewards-based preventative health program, Vitality.

Most significant of all, the Discovery Keycare series was the earliest entry-level medical aid product to unlock low-cost quality healthcare for many previously uninsured South Africans.

Technology as a key driver

Discovery has incorporated mobile apps, wearable devices and telematics into its key programmes.

Discovery Insure uses telematics technology to help encourage safer driving habits in its rewards-based Vitality Drive offering.

The HealthID mobile app instantly links doctors to members’ medical information, and Discovery Health Vitality members are rewarded for tracking activity using apps and wearables.

Cash back on fuel and healthy food purchases, free vouchers and discount deals on gym memberships, travel, entertainment and digital devices have also contributed to the group's huge popularity.

Shared-value business model

The Discovery Group is underpinned by a "shared-value" business model. Members are incentivised to become healthier, and to drive better, through the Vitality rewards programmes. When they reach specified targets, their monthly contributions are reduced.

Healthier members and more careful drivers translate into fewer claims. Value extends to ordinary South Africans. Roads are safer and there's less pressure on the over-burdened public and private healthcare systems.

The group’s value-driven business model has garnered positive reviews on the world stage. At the World Economic Forum in 2013, Discovery Vitality was awarded global gold standard. A year later, the Harvard Business School published a study focussing on shared value between the organisation, its customers and broader society.

Discovery Foundation

The Discovery Foundation was set up to help government address the serious shortage of skilled doctors in the country. To date, it has awarded more than R160 million in grants for the education and training of 300 healthcare specialists.

In addition, the Foundation facilitates the participation of South African academic specialists in research programmes in the USA through a fellowship with the Massachusetts General Hospital.

Forging ahead

Discovery is forging ahead with plans to set up a commercial bank in South Africa, a venture tipped to rival the ‘big five’ banks. CEO Adrian Gore envisages a shared-value business model that supports positive savings behaviour.

With authorisation from the Registrar of Banks a done deal, the group is on track to launch a portfolio of innovative banking products in 2018.

At IFC, we offer informed, objective advice about all leading South African medical aid schemes, including Discovery Health, and can assist you in joining the scheme that best suits your needs and budget. Contact us for more information or to discuss your needs.