Medical Aid for Cancer

cancerCancer is one of the leading causes of death in South Africa and may become even more prevalent – medical journal, Lancet, predicts a 78 percent spike in cancer cases by 2030.

Prostate, breast, lung and cervical cancers are the most common. Although treatment for many types of cancer has a reasonable success rate, it comes at a significant cost.

Despite the pervasiveness of the disease and the high price tag associated with cancer treatment, medical aid schemes in South Africa do not automatically cover treatment costs.

In fact, if a cancer is deemed untreatable or state-enforced prescribed minimum benefits (PMBs) don't apply, cover is solely through a scheme's oncology benefit. Different medical aids offer different oncology benefits, and these may limit cover to a defined monetary amount per annum.

Oncology benefits

Comprehensive medical aid options that provide cover both in and out of hospital usually have unlimited oncology benefits. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that all expenses will be paid for in full.

Instead, medical aid schemes pay providers a scheme rate, or in some cases 200 or 300 percent of the scheme rate. This rate may be a lot lower than the one healthcare providers actually charge, in which case members have to cover the remaining costs.

More affordable entry-level medical aid options offer limited oncology cover, generally in the range of R100,000 to about R300,000 plus per annum. Once the limit has been reached, any additional payments have to be borne by the member.

Furthermore, schemes have the right not to cover the costs of secondary conditions resulting from non-treatable, non-PMB cancers.

Cancer as a PMB

If a cancer is considered a PMB condition, a medical aid scheme is legally obliged to continue paying for treatment at cost, even if the oncology benefit limit has been reached. This includes covering the costs of consultations, surgery, specialised radiology, blood tests and chemo and radiation therapy.

In order to cap PMB expenditure, medical aid schemes can insist that beneficiaries consult specialists and use hospitals in their networks. Low-cost medical aid options may limit members to treatment at state facilities only.

In addition, each medical aid scheme covers only medicines listed on a scheme formulary. Entry-level plans typically cover the cost only of generic alternatives, rather than of more expensive branded medicines.

What cancers are eligible for PMBs?

Cancers of the solid organs, provided they are treatable, are eligible for PMBs.

Moreover, cancers such as acute and chronic leukaemia, multiple myeloma and lymphomas, whether treatable or not, have to be paid for in full by all medical aid schemes in South Africa, notwithstanding the level of cover subscribed to by the member.

When is cancer considered treatable?

According to the Medical Schemes Act, cancer is considered treatable when:

  • only the organ of origin is affected and there is no spread of the disease to contiguous organs, or
  • the organ of origin and other life supporting organs and systems have not been irreparably damaged by the cancer, or
  • there is scientific evidence that more than 10 percent of people living with a similar cancer have survived with the treatment for a minimum of five years.

Make an informed choice

Before you subscribe to a particular medical aid scheme or plan, it's a good idea to investigate the cover it offers for cancer treatment. Among the issues you should consider are:

  • the monetary value of the oncology benefit per beneficiary per year
  • what specialised treatments or biologics, if any, are covered by the benefit structure
  • whether cover for oncologist and specialist consultations is limited
  • the scheme’s cancer treatment protocols
  • whether the scheme permits plan upgrades at any time during the year.

A snapshot of top medical aid options for cancer

Depending on the level of cover, Discovery Health covers the first R200,000 or R400,000 of authorised cancer treatment over a 12-month period, up to the scheme rate.

Once costs exceed the defined amount, the scheme pays 80 percent of the scheme rate for all additional treatment. The member picks up the 20 percent excess.

Benefits include chemo and radiation therapy, consultations, hospital fees, blood tests, medicines on the formulary that are prescribed to treat symptoms such as pain, depression and nausea, and basic and specialised radiology and scopes. Bone marrow searches and transplants are also covered.

Fedhealth pays for chemo and radiation therapy and medicines on its formulary from the oncology benefit. Treatment for related conditions, such as depression, is funded from an alternative benefit.

All consultations, pathology, radiology and specialised radiology are paid for, provided the member is receiving either chemo or radiation treatment, and for a 12-month period thereafter.

Up to two PET scans per family per year are covered. Expenses relating to surgery and hospitalisation are paid from the major medical benefit.

Consult an independent medical aid broker

With so much at stake and so many potentially confusing options, the best way to compare medical aid cancer benefits is to consult a specialist medical aid broker, such as IFC. Call us today and we’ll guide you every step of the way.

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