Improved health ahead: medical schemes boost cancer and heart disease screenings

Gary Feldman
19 September 2023
5 min read

It’s a fact: early detection saves lives and money. Several medical schemes in South Africa have been looking at the research and doing the math and, as a result, have expanded their screening benefits for cancer and heart disease. We examine the recent encouraging trend in medical schemes as they increasingly include more extensive screening benefits. Additionally, we offer insight into the groundbreaking WELLTH Fund introduced by Discovery Health launched in January this year.

Early detection saves lives

According to the Heart Foundation, 225 South Africans die from heart disease every day and 10 people suffer a stroke in South Africa every hour. These statistics are alarming, but even more so when you consider that 80% of heart diseases and strokes can be prevented through early detection.

When it comes to cancer, the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), reports that the top 5 cancers found in males (prostate, colorectal, lung, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, melanoma) and the top five cancers found in females in South Africa (breast, cervix, colorectal, uterus, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) can all be prevented through early detection. The earlier these conditions are detected, the easier they are to treat. If left undiagnosed and only picked up in later stages, the treatment becomes more complex and costly, and it significantly lowers the patient’s chances of survival. Furthermore, the patient will lose time away from work, which could adversely affect their career development and financial stability.

September is Heart Awareness Month

Every year, South Africa dedicates the entire month of September to building awareness around heart health. This initiative, driven by the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), puts the spotlight on statistics that highlight why heart health is so important:

  • Cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of death in South Africa after HIV/AIDS
  • Heart disease is responsible for 18% of all deaths in South Africa
  • 120 people suffer from a heart attack every day.

The aim of the campaign is fourfold: to build awareness of heart disease and other circulatory diseases, to encourage people to live healthier lifestyles, to promote early detection, and to discourage smoking and high levels of salt intake.

If you belong to a medical scheme, take some time to understand the preventative screening benefits your scheme offers you as a member. If you rely on public health, you can get these screenings done at a local clinic or pharmacy. Set a regular date every year, like January or your birthday month to go for all the important screenings so that you remember to keep on checking the status of your health.

Discovery's WELLTH Fund innovation

In January 2023, Discovery Health Medical Scheme launched its WELLTH Fund, with the “hope of kickstarting a trend of preventative care”. The WELLTH Fund launch press release stated that:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic impact on healthcare systems led to consumers deferring non-COVID-related healthcare
  • General health checks were down 50% at the peak of the pandemic compared to pre-COVID levels

As a result of these findings and surplus reserve funds post COVID, Discovery Health Medical Scheme members now have access to additional screening and preventative benefits in the form of the WELLTH Fund. This means that during 2023 and 2024, their members (on all plans) have a once-off access of up to R10 000 per family (depending on number of dependents) for an expanded range of screening and preventative healthcare. As the largest administrator of medical schemes, Discovery Health uses its data from its membership base to gain insights into the health trends affecting over three million beneficiaries. There’s no doubt that other medical schemes have done their analysis which ignited this trend of expanding screening benefits for the health of the members, as well as the financial health of the medical schemes.

The original Discovery Vitality Health Checks includes a set of essential health screenings and preventative tests including blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol, body mass index, as well as a non-smoker declaration. The WELLTH Fund’s expanded range of screening and preventative healthcare has six broader categories including general health, physical health, mental health, women’s and men’s specific health, children’s specific health, as well as medical monitoring devices for condition management.

Members who regularly go for their screenings will detect conditions proactively, instead of reactively, which means that conditions are diagnosed before or in the early stages of development. Later stage development typically means more extensive treatment, resulting in higher costs for the patient as well as the medical aid.

Health empowerment through knowledge

The role of awareness and education in maintaining heart and cancer health cannot be understated. Small lifestyle adjustments can make a significant difference to the general health of an individual. The Mayo Clinic provides these tips to develop and lead a lifestyle that supports good heart health:

  1. Don’t smoke: The chemicals in tobacco damage your heart and your blood vessels. Cigarette smoke lowers the oxygen in your blood, which increases your blood pressure and heart rate. Your heart must then work harder to circulate oxygen to your brain and the rest of your body.
  2. Get physical: Only 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week can lower your risk of heart disease. For better results, aim to get active every day. Start slowly and build your physical stamina over a manageable period.
  3. Eat healthy: Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fish over processed foods. Low-fat dairy foods and healthy fats like olive oil and avocados also give your physical body what it needs. Avoid salt, sugar, alcohol and trans-fat.
  4. Stay slim: Try to maintain a healthy body weight. Extra weight can lead to conditions that increase your risk of heart disease.
  5. Sleep well: Adults need approximately seven hours of sleep a night. If you don't get enough sleep, you increase your risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes, and depression.
  6. Manage stress: If you are stressed all the time, it can play a role in increasing your blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease.
  7. Regularly screen: Be proactive about screening so that you get to know your overall health status. It also helps to monitor your results over time.

Take charge of your health today

If you are a Discovery member, take some time to explore the benefits of their WELLTH Fund offering and take advantage of the increased preventative screenings for cancer and heart disease. If you aren’t a Discovery Health member, prioritise regular screenings for a healthier future for both you and your family. After all, your health is your wealth.

T&Cs apply. NMG Consultants and Actuaries (Pty) LTD is an authorised financial services provider FSP 12968


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