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Discovery takes its Vitality model to China

Following its success in SA, the incentive-based Discovery Vitality model has been implemented in the US and UK, and is now available in China through Ping An Health.
The Vitality programme is "the world's largest incentive-based wellness programme" and it encourages healthy behaviour that reduces long-term healthcare costs by rewarding members for improving their health, Discovery said.

Barry Swartzberg, Discovery co-founder and executive director, said that the opportunities for the Vitality programme in China were huge, with a large economy, growing wealth, and constant innovation, but a relatively unhealthy population that had insufficient health insurance coverage.

Swartzberg said that in SA, US$1,000 is spent on healthcare per person every year, while China only spent $400 per person, despite having a similar GDP per capita.

As much as 80% of those costs were spent out-of-pocket from savings, compared to 30% in SA. This meant that there was massive potential for health insurance in the country.

Ping An Health was launched in 2010, after Discovery acquired a 20% share in Ping An Health Insurance, a wholly-owned subsidiary of China's Ping An Insurance Group.

With 70 million customers, Ping An Insurance is China's leading insurer and the second largest in the world.

It has 175,136 employees and as many as 486,911 sales agents.

As the country had a relatively unhealthy population and an insufficient coverage of many diseases by insurers, Swartzberg said that "increasing wealth will drive demand for coverage in a private setting".

There was also a lack of a "suitable product for me" in the world's second largest economy, he said.

Also, while 97% of employers provided health check-ups for employees in terms of physical examinations, few followed up on these and had health management programmes. The Vitality programme could address this, Swartzberg said.

A challenge however, was to understand and change the mind-set of paying for healthcare out of savings.

Discovery CEO Adrian Gore said that the move into China was part of the effort to "globalise the Vitality opportunity".

Gore said that the Vitality programme made use of incentives to "break the destructive cycle" of people over-consuming healthcare but under-consuming wellness, despite the long term benefits of wellness.

Vitality aimed to get people to change their behaviour based on financial incentives and education and was an opportunity for people to manage their own risk, and the results had been "staggering", he said.

Dr Craig Nossel, head of Vitality Wellness at Discovery, said that with the world-wide increase in non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, lifestyle changes could have a huge impact on improving health and productivity.

Nossel said that by providing financial incentives for people to go to gym, get health assessments and eat healthier, people experienced significantly lower healthcare costs.

A study showed that two extra visits to the gym each week lowered one's chance of ending up in a hospital by 13%. This lowered healthcare costs and increased productivity. Therefore companies needed to take "a lot more interest" in the health of their employees, he said.