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Thursday, 1 November 2007, Cape Town
Ladies and Gentlemen.
You have now heard both the Chairman and the Principal Officer of GEMS talk about how well this medical scheme has conducted its affairs and just how much it has achieved in its first two years of operation. This is good news for Government as it indicates that GEMS is not only meeting the policy objectives as set for it by Government but, in some instances, far exceeding them.
Chapter 10 of the Constitution speaks to a public administration that must be broadly representative of the South African people, with employment and personnel management practices based on ability, objectivity, fairness and the need to redress the imbalances of the past to achieve broad representation.
GEMS mandate is accordingly meant to provide public service employees with healthcare cover that is efficient, cost-effective and equitable while affording additional choice to those that wish to purchase more extensive cover. Access, equity, affordability and differentiation - these are the same principles spoken to in our Constitution and permeating through the many programmes implemented by our government across all three spheres - local, provincial and national.
GEMS is proving to be a very popular choice amongst public servants. Within the 22 months that it has been operating, it has become the third largest medical scheme in the country, and the largest restricted scheme. In this short space of time it covers more than half a million employees and their families across different salary levels, diverse cultures and a wide range of job descriptions - over 18% of the targeted workforce in fact.
Widespread access was made possible by the provision of member services throughout the country, with a great variety of different contact methods in place. These include the call centre, email, SMS, fax and personal interaction.
If we talk further on access, one in every three public servants in the Northern Cape and Western Cape are now GEMS members.
The new medical assistance policy (or subsidy) introduced by Government in 2006 and adjusted in 2007 has ensured that all of our employees are provided with greater access to GEMS and medical scheme benefits. Employees' income levels and family size are not deterrents to them accessing this key employee benefit. Thus far, 53% of employees enrolled on GEMS did not previously make use of the medical scheme subsidy.
If we look further at equity; 62% of GEMS members are females. Appreciating how women have been systematically marginalised and disadvantaged, it is good to know that we are enabling our female employees to access this useful benefit. Further, the average size of GEMS families is larger than that of the industry (2.71 vs 2.3) indicating and confirming the equitable nature of GEMS and the medical assistance policy.
The benefit enhancements, I think we will all agree, widen the spectrum of healthcare cover provided by GEMS. Across all five options GEMS has enhanced the benefits it offers in accordance with requests received from members. As far as differentiation goes, the scheme truly provides employees with a benefit package that will meet their particular needs and pocket.
The benefit enhancements, as well as the contribution increases in line with industry figures widely covered in the media, confirm that GEMS continues to offer quality healthcare cover and excellent value for money. The subsidy enhancements which were included in the June wage agreement, in line with the tax changes announced by the Minister of Finance in February, make it more affordable for all employees to enjoy the comprehensive benefits on offer. This is especially the case for those employees on salary levels one to five, as they continue to qualify for the full, 100% subsidy.
It is clear that Government's policy objectives for GEMS are being met in 2007 and that it will continue to be met by the scheme's hardworking officials throughout 2008.
At face value it would appear that GEMS is merely a new employee benefit for public servants. However, on closer inspection the implementation of GEMS lends significant support to broader social imperatives and public service programmes.
GEMS is also contributing to public sector initiatives:
It is enhancing the productivity and well being of public service employees through the provision of healthcare benefits and disease management programmes which link to the Employee Health and Wellness programmes implemented throughout the public service;
It is promoting broad-based Black Economic Empowerment by using procurement processes that have selected leading suppliers on criteria that include their empowerment credentials; and
Through contracts with the provincial departments of health it is generating revenue streams for the public sector when its members are admitted to public facilities and also reducing the burden on these facilities by extending scheme cover to those employees who previously did not have any.
Since inception GEMS has contributed to growing the medical scheme beneficiary base and it is anticipated that in the long term it will grow this base by up to 14% - a critical tool as our medical scheme industry has not succeeded in growing over the last few years. In addition, GEMS has shown the private healthcare sector a feasible solution to growing the medical scheme beneficiary base whilst offering affordable benefits with reduced administrative expenditure.
The implementation of GEMS is an example of the ‘business unusual' public service we require. It provides practical examples of measures in place to fulfill President Thabo Mbeki's directives, given in his State of the Nation Address when he said there is a need to ‘respond to the imperative to move forward as quickly as possible to build the South Africa defined by a common dream, our government committed itself, working with all South Africans, to implement detailed programmes intended ... to ensure that the public sector discharges its responsibilities as a critical player in the growth, reconstruction and development of our country...'
I believe that GEMS is an excellent example of how Government delivers on its promises to its own employees.