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By Vivian Warby
Cape Town - One of the great successes of the Department of Public Service and Administration has been the Government Employee Medical Scheme (GEMS), says Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi.
Delivering her department's Budget Vote on Tuesday, the minister said that over 20 percent of employees previously without medical aid who were uncovered in 2006 when the scheme started enrolling members are now covered by GEMS.
By the end of December 2007, more than 69 000 employees on levels one to five, the lowest income bands, were members of GEMS.
"I believe we have already achieved much we can be proud of," said Minister Fraser-Moleketi.
She said that within only two years of its establishment, GEMS was now the largest restricted membership medical scheme, the second largest scheme overall, and it boasts growth in 2007 in excess of 400 percent.
The scheme covers over 250 000 public service employees and 680 000 beneficiaries when you include family members.
"That is double the figure I quoted in my Budget Vote speech a year ago. More than one in five public service employees are GEMS members and in some provinces, like the Western Cape, more than one in three employees are registered."
The minister said that in 2005, when the dominant trend "was still to worship everything associated with the private sector and the free market and to belittle any initiative that carried with it the scent of the public sector, we set out to establish a public sector medical scheme that would bring the bulk of public servants and their sizeable number of dependents into the protective folds of a sound, well-run medical aid.
"We realised by using creative subsidy policies we could ensure that a segment that hitherto was dependent on the public health system, could be given the opportunity to access private health care."
"While obviously belonging to GEMS is seen as an improvement in the conditions of service of our public servants, with the associated benefits in employer loyalty and so forth, the spin off GEMS goes much wider."
She said it is an inventive way to use the public sector to improve the livelihoods of a much wider group of dependents of public servant, generally in the lower income ranks.
The figures GEMS are showing was also debunking some of the less flattering myths around public sector organisations.
It has become so efficient in its administration that 93 cents of every Rand collected from members are going to health care spending.
The norm in the industry is that typically 16 cents in the medical aid Rand is going for such non-health care expenditure, thus resulting in only 84 cents in every Rand available for what it was intended for.
"There were many doomsday prophets when we conceived the idea of GEMS and started to pursue this dream.
"Many repeatedly stated that GEMS would not be approved, that it would not be created, that it would never enroll members, and that it would not last - I think members of the House would agree with me that these profound announcements have been proved wrong," said the minister.