South Africa

Interrogation, intimidation of black doctors by medical schemes ’worse than what happened during apartheid’

Johannesburg - The interim report on medical aid schemes released this week has exposed systemic racism that black people have generally continued to face in the country.

On Thursday, black doctors called a media briefing to reply to the report that confirmed their long-standing complaints against medical aids.

Released by a panel chaired by advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, the report revealed that three major schemes subjected African and Indian healthcare practitioners in private practice to unfair racial discrimination between 2012 and 2019.

These were Discovery, the Government Employees Medical Scheme (Gems) and Medscheme.

The panel, which was set up by the statutory body Council for Medical Schemes (CMS), nailed the schemes on the fraud, waste or abuse investigations that they launched on practitioners claiming payment.

It found that the schemes launched proportionally more probes and audits on black practitioners than on their white counterparts.

The pattern of investigations indicated there was unfair racial discrimination, the report said. Black doctors had complained that schemes launched dodgy probes against them to avoid paying them. Some of the probes culminated in schemes claiming that doctors actually owed them because they had defrauded them, the Ngcukaitobi-led panel heard during hearings last year.

Medical schemes have largely dismissed the report’s findings and denied being racist. They maintained that all they had done was to protect their members’ funds from fraud, waste and abuse.

Lutendo Phaswana, a physiotherapist, told the media briefing the report revealed “only the tip of the iceberg of the suffering of a black child” in South Africa. “It shows that… you’ll always be met somehow if you’re a black person with undue suspicion and persecution, regardless of your education level.

“All the disciplines that you could find in the healthcare profession have been put through this sustained and systemic pressure,” he said.

The report proved black doctors were not lying when they alleged they were being excluded from the health economy for the benefit of their white counterparts.

Nomaefese Gatsheni, a clinical social worker, said black practitioners have been vindicated in their fight against systemic racism. She recalled her scathing words to Discovery during an exchange of emails: “I said you might think you’re above the law, but I tell you you’re not even a grain of sand to the South African Constitution. You’re just a white capital monopoly. That is why you have guts to audit blacks and Indians, just to put them out of the system,” she said.

Dr Prudence Buthelezi said the interrogation and intimidation practitioners faced from scheme investigators were worse than what happened during apartheid.

The Star

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