By Hilary Mare
MEDICAL aid funds are set for huge windfalls following a directive from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Immigration that both new and senior foreign students will now require medical insurance as a pre-requisite in applying for a study permit.
The move that has seen thousands of foreign students rushing to obtain medical cover will certainly boost revenues of the medical aid schemes available in the market inclusive of Renaissance, NMC, Nammed, Napotel, NHP and many others that fall under the Namibian Association of Medical Aid Funds (NAMAF).
Namibia houses over 10 000 foreign students.
According to the Immigration Control Act of 19 August 1993, all international students (SADC and non-SADC) should be in possession of a valid approved study permit and visa before entering Namibia for the purpose of studying.
Subsequently, the Ministry of Home Affairs has made an arrangement with the University of Namibia to issue study permits to students after registration on condition that requirements inclusive of proof of registration, results of previous academic year, valid study visa of the previous year, proof of medical insurance, police clearance, proof of residence in Namibia (lease agreement), proof of payment of the full minimum deposit payable to the University of Namibia are met.
“From NMC side we welcome the initiative as it will ensure that students have the medical cover for day-to-day expenses and hospital cover they need, as well as in the case of emergencies.
“Currently we do not have a specific option designed to suit the young and healthy student but are in the process of working on an affordable student medical aid option which we hope to bring into place as soon as possible.
“Foreign nationals who require working permits (as opposed to students with study permits) usually have pre-arranged employment which in most cases has a group fund scheme,” Alison Begley, principal officer at Namibia Medical Care (NMC) and vice president of NAMAF welcomed the move.
Essentially this directive comes at the best time for medical aid schemes who late last year announced a hike in premiums citing inflationary market changes that affect every business operation.
Sonja Malan, a principal officer at Renaissance Health Medical Aid Fund wrote in the firm’s latest newsletter that the board had approved an over seven percent increase for the year.
“Established on the above-inflation medical healthcare costs, benefits, technology, the general performance of the fund and various other factors, the board has approved an overall weighted average annual increase of 7,61 percent for the 2017 benefit year. In general all contributions increases are kept to the best possible percentage within the framework of healthcare and non-healthcare costs whilst maintaining the financial soundness of the fund in general.
“The overall annual weighted increases for 2016 amounted to 6,92 percent. This was the lowest increase in the industry for the 2016 year. Members should note that you may be subject to a slightly higher or lower increase since this is a weighted overall increase,” she expressed.
In November, representatives from various Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries appealed to the South African government to revise some of its students’ visa requirements, which they said affected students ‘adversely’. Stakeholders, including medical schemes representatives from Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland and Namibia, the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), and the Department of Home Affairs, met in Johannesburg to discuss some of the challenges students face when applying for visas and to find long- and short-term solutions.
Chiefly among the concerns was the visa requirements that is set out in section 13(1) of the Immigration Act and regulation 12(1)(f). According to the requirements, foreign students must belong to a medical aid registered with the CMS, an agency of the National Department of Health that regulates medical aids in South Africa.
In this law, foreign students either have to belong to two medical aids or opt to give up membership in their countries. If they opt to give up membership in their own countries, they have no medical aid cover when they return home at the end of a semester. Apart from the fact that most students could not afford dual-membership, some SADC countries’ laws prohibited membership to two medical aids.
“In addition, some South African medical aid membership rules also prohibit dual membership. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that students have to pay 12 months’ membership fees in advance, adding to their financial burden. No medical aid requirements or restrictions are imposed on South African citizens residing, working or studying in SADC countries. Therefore, South Africa’s Immigration Act requirements are perceived to be contrary to the spirit of the SADC formation, which was signed by 14 heads of state in Maputo, Mozambique in 1999,” argued representative inclusive of those from Namibia.
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