EDITORIAL: Consumers deserve value for money

Saturday December 17 2016


A few days ago the Cabinet passed a resolution to increase medical insurance tariffs by 15 per cent for Military Medical Insurance and private insurances, and 25 per cent for those subscribed to Rama under the Rwanda Social Security Board scheme.

Generally speaking, any increment in the amount of money an entity, or individual has to fork out for a good or a service is unpopular, and elicits some frowns, this will not be an exception.

The new tariffs will mean more will be charged for every patient under a private insurance scheme, which is a pain. As of now it is not clear how the burden will be spread between the different stakeholders.

One insurer was blunt enough to say the obvious, that it is the customer that will pick the increment as the new tariffs will drive premiums up.

The likely sufferers will ultimately be the patients and employers, who will have to dig deeper in their pockets to pay for the new premiums. While necessary, the one thing consumers should be assured of is value for money.

Government has said the changes in tariffs are meant to strengthen service delivery and equip hospitals to offer better services. That is a laudable goal and we must accept that everything comes at a price. However, one hopes that one of the benefits will be a harmonisation in the standard of drugs in pharmacists stocks.

As things stand now, consumers are often confronted with the odd situation where they are offered a more “effective” branded option and generic version of the same molecule but whose “efficacy” the vendor cannot vouch for.

Why medication of doubtable benefit to patients should be on the market in the first place, begs questions.

Why would there be poor quality drugs on the shelves in the first place, what does poor quality even mean in this case? But the more insidious risk is that ignorant consumers will be charged more than they should pay for generics.

Insurance players will be meeting later on to discuss the likely impact of the new tariffs on the businesses and it is likely they will opt for the easy path of protecting their margins.

That leaves the consumer directly in the line of fire. Much as they are largely at arm’s length of most interactions between patient and medical service provider, they have a stake in the quality debate because ultimately, the bill ends up at their door.

They can play a role in consumer education by ensuring their clients are aware of their rights and can make distinctions in the medical products and quality of service being offered.

At the end only empowered and informed consumers can drive the quality regime by demanding for the rights provided for under their service contracts.