Health emergencies can happen at any time. But one of the best things that can help lessen the adverse effects of this emergency is quick access to quality medical care even when you have no money in your pocket.
This is one of the reasons the Federal Government established, under the National Health Insurance Scheme Act, Cap N42, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, the means to provide good access to healthcare for Nigerians at affordable cost through various prepayment systems. Unfortunately, however, less than 5 percent of Nigerians are yet to be covered under the scheme.
Chioma Obinna spoke to the Chief Executive Officer, Reliance Health Management organization (HMO), Mrs. Funlola Jide-Aribaloye, with over 20 years’ experience in insurance, on the benefits of health insurance and why Reliance HMO came up with a health insurance retail plan. Excerpts:
What are the benefits of health insurance?
Health insurance is simply transferring your health risk to a provider. It means you buy a plan that offers you access to healthcare when you require it without having to pay out- of- pocket. So it means that when you have a health insurance, if you ever have a need for healthcare, you simply go to a designated hospital that you would have chosen by yourself and you are able to access healthcare just by presenting your identity card. It is often said that health is wealth. So a healthy society is a wealthy society. Often times, organisations lose man-hours because people are ill and unable to attend to their jobs. Simply put, if you have health insurance, something that will knock you off your feet may not necessarily knock you off. Money that you would have used to do other things will not be burnt paying health bills. If you have health insurance, you would have transferred that risk and you are able to access it at a more affordable price. These are some of the benefits of health insurance to the individual, society and government. In summary, everybody is able to safely and properly utilize funds to do all of the things that are necessary.
Health indices and benefits of health insurance to the society?
Health insurance helps to improve the health statistics of a country. Whether you look at it from the point of vaccination or immunization, when you buy a health plan for your child, all of the National Programme on Immunisations are covered on that health plan. Certain illnesses that children suffer go just by immunizing them. You can start from there and then continue to build up.
Maternal health is also improved when you have health insurance. Instead of looking for an auxiliary nurse or somebody around in the neighborhood to come and take delivery, this woman can walk into a hospital and be sure that she will be attended to by professionals and then, when there is complication with the delivery, they quickly know what to do. If it is Caesarean section they will do it. When you move to an environment where there are professionals, you will be sure that you would be attended to by best professionals with best of care and options.
Is Nigeria on track on health insurance?
We have a long way to go; it is a systematic process and it is a precise and deliberate process. We need to continue to work towards it and that includes health facilities, health insurance companies and individuals; we must take charge of our health as individuals and look for the best way to take care of it. People must become more aware of what they need to do to protect themselves: exercise, eat right, sleep at the right time and buy a health plan so that when you need a healthcare, you can access it. These are all the things that will move us forward and improve our statistics such that we can safely say that we are on track.
What can you say about Reliance HMO?
Reliance HMO is a health insurance company. We started as a telemedicine company two years ago and evolved to be a health insurance company because we felt that people needed more. People have been able to use telemedicine service to chat with doctors and ask questions at any time to inquire about their health and we decided to take a step further to build plans around that service so that, when people need to go to hospital, it is just a step further from what they had before.
Affordability is a very big issue in health insurance. What are the products you have for Nigerians?
When I say we are a full-fledged HMO, it means we care for the retail space as well as the corporate space. Right now, we have launched the retail product that is monthly and that allows enrollees to purchase on monthly basis.
We have done this because we find that this is lacking in the insurance space. You find that a lot of companies have their attention focused on the corporate space with so many health insurance companies chasing the same business of the corporate world, whereas there are a lot of Nigerians who not employed by government or in big organizations who also require health insurance. These are the people who have driven us to start this retail plan that we now offer to the public. We have come up with a monthly plan because affordability is a big issue when it comes to purchasing health insurance. People think of the cost of dropping one year insurance and they just forgo the thought altogether. But when you do it on a consistent monthly basis at a sum that is not such a burden and you can still take care of other things, then it becomes easier for you to purchase the health insurance and that’s why we decided to launch the retail plan.
What differentiates you from other HMOs?
First, we want to look at ourselves as a health –tech company which means a lot of things that we do is powered by technology. The world has evolved to a level where everything is powered by technology. Today, almost everybody has a phone in his hand, even young children. It has become a means of communication no longer nice not to have any more. And that is where we are going in our health insurance. And for us, service is what distinguishes us from other HMOs. We say we are fanatical about our customers which means we will go to any length to ensure that our customers are well served.
Another thing that distinguishes us from other health plans is the fact that you can chat with the doctor on our plan. This is not WhatsApp-driven. It is info-tech driven. It means that we are not waiting for a doctor to come online. There are over 750 doctors available on that platform and ready to take your questions whenever you pose them. At any point in time, if you are a Reliance HMO enrollee and you have a question and you chat with the doctor, you will get a response within few minutes.
What are the challenges of health insurance?
Health is costly and you grapple with making it affordable to everybody. So to get to a certain standard, there must be a minimum price you will pay. So you need to think about where to send the people to. Think about the hospitals, facilities and working together with all of those facilities to ensure that a holistic plan is put together for the individual at a price that is reasonable enough. This remains the greatest challenge in health insurance. It is affordability versus the standard and the level of care and benefit that you want to offer. Those are the things that are most challenging to the delivery of service.
Where will Reliance HMO be in the next 10 years?
My vision for Nigeria and for health insurance is to see everybody has a health plan. I feel bad when I think about children that have childhood illnesses and don’t have access to care and just lose their lives simply because their parents were not able to afford healthcare or health plan for them. My vision is to take Reliance HMO to that place where we are the ones who made it possible for every Nigerian to be able to buy health insurance and have access to the care that they need. In 10 years, I want to see Reliance HMO at the peak, totally dominating the retail space and ensuring that, whether or not you work in an organization, you are covered for health.