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SA's No 1 Insurance Blog

It’s that time of year when savings facilities on medical aid plans run really low or are already totally bone dry.  If you belong to a medical aid plan that has a savings facility built into it, to fund day-to-day expenses like GP visits and medication, only two options are available to you. Your plan either has a threshold benefit built into it or it doesn’t.

Hold on a second Brendan , what is a threshold benefit? It’s basically a “safety net” that kicks in once you’ve exhausted your annual medical aid savings allowance. You do pay extra for a medical aid plan with a benefit like this, because when you have used up your savings for the year, the medical aid steps in and pays the rest of your out-of-hospital bills for the remainder of the calendar year.

Well not exactly, there is a self-payment gap expense you will need to navigate through first, but I will get to that a little later in this post. The threshold benefit is necessary and worth the extra bucks per month if you claim heavily, but you need to know how this safety net system actually works or you run the risk of falling straight through it.

Let’s quickly have a look at an example of a medical aid plan with a savings facility that doesn’t have a threshold benefit built into it.

John is a single guy and healthy. He belongs to a medical aid plan that has a savings facility built into it. John’s total contribution towards his medical aid plan is R1,516 per month and he has a 25% premium allocation towards his savings facility. That means that R379 of each medical aid contribution John pays every month is being used to fund his savings account over a one year period.

Calculation:  R1,516pm (total medical aid contribution) x25% = R379pm (portion of his premium that goes into the savings account facility) x 12 months (full years worth of contributions) = R4,548 into John’s medical aid savings facility on his medical aid plan.

Easy enough! John’s got R4,548 in savings for the year to fund his day-to-day expenses like GP visits and medication. If John runs out of savings (has used up all the funds) during the course of the year, then that’s it. He is out of pocket and will need to pay for out-of hospital related expenses himself until his savings account is re-boosted again in January. John’s plan doesn’t have the threshold “safety net” benefit built into it but that’s fine with John because he never runs through his annual savings allowance.

Nothing wrong with a medical aid plan like this if you are in good health and you don’t claim heavily.  If you don’t use up the entire medical savings allocation in that year, it rolls over to the next year. If you run out of savings in December, not a biggie, you only need to wait until the 1st January for your savings account to be re-boosted again.

The problem is that many medical aid members (especially those with kids) can’t get by on the annual medical savings allocation. Regular GP visits, medication and especially dentistry all cost big bucks and your savings facility needs to cover almost all of your out-of-hospital related expenses. I have had clients phone me in April, three months after their accounts have been re-boosted for the year, to say that their savings accounts have already been completely exhausted.

If you are on a plan without a threshold benefit (safety net), you simply have to bite the bullet and pick up the costs yourself. If you have opted for a medical aid plan with a threshold benefit, you are in luck because the medical aid company will step in and help pay some or all of these out-of-hospital related expenses once you are through the dreaded self- payment gap.

So what exactly is a threshold benefit and I’ve never heard of a self payment gap before?

Let’s have a look at another example of a medical aid plan that has a savings facility as well as a threshold benefit built into it. It will help you better understand the “self-payment & threshold benefit principle”

Jack is also single and on a medical aid. He claims more heavily than his brother John.  Each year he spends a large sum on GP visits, medication and a whole bunch of other out-of-hospital related expenses. Jack knows that his annual medical aid savings account allowance isn’t going to be enough for the year and usually by August he is out of pocket. Because of this, Jack has opted for a medical aid plan that has a threshold benefit built into it. He wants the “safety net” option. Jack pays, R1,698 per month towards his medical aid. Like John he has a 25% allocation towards savings. Jack will have R5,094 in his medical savings account to fund day-to-day expenses for the year. Unlike John, Jack has a threshold benefit of R7,450 on his medical aid plan set by his scheme. That means that once Jack has run through his savings allowance of R5,094 he needs to submit another R2,356 worth of paid claims to his scheme to reach his threshold. After that the threshold benefit kicks and his scheme pays the bills for the rest of the year.

Hold the bus Brendan!  Back up buddy.. Just run through that again because you have lost me.

Calculation: R1,698pm (total contribution) x 25% = R424.50 x 12 months in a year = R5,094 savings.

Ok that part you’ve got. Jack has R5,094 in medical savings for the year. Now the threshold benefit is a claim ceiling that the medical has set on his medical aid plan for the year. In this particular case, they have set it at R7,450. All that means is that they will pick up Jack’s out-of-hospital bills once he has pushed through this claim ceiling. But first Jack will need to pay the difference between the threshold and his savings allowance. This is called the self payment gap and this is where it get’s a little tricky.

Calculation: Threshold R7,450 (set by the medical aid scheme) minus Jacks’ annual savings allowance of R5,094 = R2,356 (self payment gap) . The rand amount in claims Jack needs to submit to his medical aid before he breaks through the threshold.


Not all the claims that you submit to your medical aid during the course of the year accrue towards the threshold benefit and your self-payment gap starts getting wider and wider making it more difficult to cross the threshold hurdle.

Your self- payment gap might have started out at R2,356 in January but by the time you want to move through the threshold benefit mid-year (when your medical savings has been exhausted) your self-payment gap might have grown to R5,500. Why is that? It’s a very good question and if you are on a plan with a threshold it’s probably happened to you on more than one occasion.

On Discovery’s medical aid scheme the following (3) reasons are why your self-payment gap gets stretched and why you might battle to break through the threshold benefit. I can’t comment on any other medical aid schemes in RSA, but if you have a threshold benefit on your medical aid plan, you might want to call your scheme and find out if the same principles apply. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion they do.

  • Over the counter medication claims (schedule 0, 1 & 2 type drugs) don’t accrue towards the threshold benefit and it actually stretches your self -payment gap.

So every time you are at the pharmacy getting medication whether it’s prescription or not, if it’s schedule 0,1 & 2 type drugs and you are claiming back from the scheme, it’s stretching out your self-payment gap. Let’s assume that your self-payment gap started out at R2,356 in January and you bought R1,000 worth of medication from your pharmacy in February. Let’s assume it’s a schedule 2 drug. You submit the bill to Discovery, they pay you back the money from your savings account, but the R1,000 claim is now added to your existing self payment gap of R2,356. Your self- payment gap is now R3,356. You see how quickly this can add up. Let’s add another R500 claim in March and another R500 claim in April. You now already need to pay in R4,356 before you reach your threshold benefit.

  • If your claims are being reimbursed at cost rather than the discovery health rate, the difference stretches your self- payment gap even further.

You can opt to have your medical claims reimbursed at two different rates. Cost (what you actually spent) and the Discovery health rate (their cost determination). If you are asking Discovery to pay you back at cost, they are happy to do this because the money comes out of your savings account. The problem is that the difference between being reimbursed at cost and the discovery health rate stretches out your self- payment gap even further during the course of the year. Let’s assume that you see a specialist for a consultation and submit the bill to Discovery. The claim is for R1000. You’ve opted to be reimbursed at cost, so Discovery pays you back R1,000 out of your medical savings. Now let’s assume that the Discovery rate for a specialist consultation like this is R650. The difference of R350 gets added onto your self-payment gap. So if your self-payment gap started off at R2,356 in January and you had a claim like this, your self-payment gap quickly would have stretched to R2,706.

  • claims accrued in one year and submitted the following year stretch your self-payment gap

This one is pretty straight forward. A claim that takes place in one year and is paid the following year, gets added to your self-payment gap. Let’s look at a quick example. John sees a specialist in November and Discovery only receive the bill in January the following year. Discovery reimburses John but the R1,000 claim now gets added onto his self-payment gap for the new year. Let’s again assume that his self-payment started off at R2,356 in January. This claim would push John’s self-payment gap out to R3,356.

Threshold benefits on medical aid plans are very useful especially when you claim heavily, but you need to just make sure that you understand the workings of the self-payment gap before opting for a plan like this otherwise it could be a waste of your money.

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