Jobs are not in plenty in South Africa right now. In 2021, the official unemployment rate stood at 32%, made worse by the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fewer jobs does not translate to fewer people needing medical services. Which becomes a problem because unemployed people or recently laid off people, more than anyone else, need a working medical aid scheme to cushion them in case of a medical emergency.
Appearing in the formal statistics as unemployed does not mean that you are not making any money. Many freelancers and self employed South Africans tend not to be captured in the data.
If you fall in that category, you may be wondering whether it is possible to get into a medical aid scheme.
Is medical aid compulsory in South Africa?
First of all, let’s get this one out of the way.
Medical aid is not compulsory in the country. This applies to both self-employed/freelancers and both employed people (to a large extent).
If you don’t work for a company or corporation, you can choose to completely forego any health insurance. Not recommended, but perfectly within your right.
If you are formally employed, some companies and industries may make it mandatory depending on the risks involved in your line of work. Some may even offer what is called ‘company medical aid’. However, if that is unavailable, your employer cannot force you to be a member of a specific medical aid scheme. You have the freedom of choice.
Can you get medical aid without formal employment?
You will be glad to know that we live in a capitalist country. Medical aid schemes and insurance companies in general do not discriminate on the basis of employment. They do not care where your money comes from, as long as you diligently pay your premiums.
As an individual registering to be a member, you may not get the best deals typically negotiated by large companies for their employees, but you will still be accepted.
Yes, they will ask about your employment status, but that is just a formality.
So, you can rest easy on that.
Should you keep your existing medical cover if you lose your job?
The decision to cancel or switch your medical aid scheme should be one taken after careful thought.
If you have just lost your job and unsure if you will manage to keep paying the premiums, speak to your provider to find out if they have any unemployment protections. This is where you are given a grace period of not paying premiums (while still covered), as you look for another job.
Many insurance providers will likely have that option as they are very protective of their clients and wouldn’t want to lose any.
If that option is available, take it as you analyze your next move. Consider the worst case scenario where you don’t find another job in time, forcing you to pay your premiums in cash likely from savings.
This is the point you now start shopping around for cheaper options, unless you are comfortable taking chances with our dysfunctional public health system.
You can choose to remain with your current scheme, but downsize to a lower plan, or move to another scheme altogether.
In a previous article, we talked about the cheapest medical aid options in South Africa.