As Zimbabweans continue to suffer the worst economic downturn in a decade, healthcare and funeral assurance are the latest services to rise in prices. The Association of Health Care Funders of Zimbabwe (AFHoZ) and the Zimbabwe Association of Funeral Assurers (ZARA) have both announced that increases are imminent. With that, not only the cost of living is rising, but so too is that of dying.
Medical aid societies under AFHoZ have, with effect from 11th February 2019, agreed to increase the fees payable to healthcare service providers. Although the increase only applies to Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) transactions, it will still affect the majority who are not paid in foreign currency. Payments to hospitals have been increased by 30% and those to doctors, dentists and other service providers have gone up by 40%. As the value of the local bond note continues to fall, many service providers have increasingly started turning away those on medical aid. Some private doctors and pharmacies already charge in foreign currency. According to AFHoZ things could have been worse. “As such the increase is conservative in relation to some of the fees being charged. An increase that would cover 100% of the fees being charged would be both unaffordable and unsustainable,” read the AFHoZ statement. Unfortunately, even if prices have been increased, this means that shortfalls will continue being a painful feature of our doctors’ visits.
As if that is not enough, ZAFA has approved premium hikes for funeral assurance companies. A number of reasons have been cited for this move. Firstly, funeral assurance companies need to remain in business, so, as the rate of the bond note continues to dwindle, premium increases are the only viable option. If they do not do that, the premiums we pay will be eroded by inflation and overtaken by events and when we die, the companies make a loss by providing services we never paid for fully. Secondly, foreign currency to purchase key consumables is both scarce and expensive. ZAFA General Manager Taka Svosve says, “It is now difficult to obtain hard currency to buy embalming fluid, a chemical used to prevent putrefaction of the deceased.” Thirdly, transport costs have also risen significantly. The price of fuel more than doubled at the beginning of the year. That of spare parts like tyres also went up. These costs have a bearing on what assurers charge because they are key operational expenses. According to ZAFA, individual funeral assurance organisations will make their own announcement as to exactly how much their members will fork out but increase have been approved.
Where to now?
With the Monetary Policy Statement expected this week, many are hopeful that something good will come out of it. Prices have been rising left, right and centre. Those demanding salary increases will have another leg to stand on. In order to protect both business and citizens, government needs to take effective action to normalise the situation. While others are calling for a new currency to be introduced, others believe adopting the Rand will bring relief to our battered economy. Clearly, the situation cannot be ignored. Some kind of panacea is needed. Government knows best.
The ordinary citizens currently find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Whether you live or die, the costs are high.