Prescribed Minimum Benefits
PMB Questions and Answers
Below are PMB questions and answers organised according to beneficiaries, schemes, and providers.
Medical scheme beneficiaries
Is my medical scheme obliged by law to provide cover for certain medical conditions?
Yes, these are known as Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMBs). They were introduced into the Medical Schemes Act to ensure that beneficiaries of medical schemes would not run out of benefits for certain conditions and find themselves forced to go to State hospitals for treatment. These PMBs cover a wide range of ±270 conditions, such as meningitis, various cancers, menopausal management, cardiac treatment and many others, including medical emergencies. However, take note that certain limitations could apply, such as the use of a Designated Service Provider and specified treatment standards.
PMB diagnosis, treatment and care are not limited to hospitals. Treatment can be received wherever it is most appropriate, including a clinic, outpatient setting or even at home. Always check your benefits with your medical scheme and make sure you have the scheme’s rules at your disposal.
Is it true that schemes now also have to provide chronic medication?
Yes, the list of PMBs includes 25 common chronic diseases in the Chronic Disease List (CDL) and other chronic conditions within the ±270 Diagnosis Treatment Pair (DTP) section. Medical schemes have to provide cover for the diagnosis, treatment and care of these diseases. However, you should remember that a medical scheme does not have to pay for diagnostic tests that establish that you are not suffering from a PMB condition.
The treatment algorithms (guidelines for appropriate treatment) for each of the CDL chronic conditions have been published in the Government Gazette while the chronic diseases in the DTP section are guided by the public sector protocols. This assures you of good quality treatment and reassures your medical scheme that it will not have to pay for unnecessary treatment. Your doctor should know and understand most of the guidelines so that he or she can help you get the treatment you need for any of these conditions without incurring costs that your scheme does not cover.
Why are some chronic illnesses covered and some not?
The diseases that have been chosen are the most common, they are life-threatening, and are those for which cost-effective treatment would sustain and improve the quality of the member’s life.
Does my scheme need to do anything to ensure that the Designated Service Provider can treat me?
The Council for Medical Schemes has been advising medical schemes to enter into contracts with any DSP they choose, especially State hospitals, to ensure that these providers can supply the necessary services. Many State hospitals have set up separate wards to serve beneficiaries whose treatment and hospital stay is paid for by their medical scheme and to whom the hospital can then afford to provide better service. Other schemes have made arrangements with private hospital and certain retail pharmacies to treat their beneficiaries.
Can I be refused cover for the chronic conditions if I do not get authorisation or have certain tests?
Yes, medical schemes can make a benefit conditional on you obtaining pre-authorisation or joining a benefit management programme. These programmes are aimed at educating members about the nature of their disease and equipping them to manage it in a way that keeps them as healthy as possible. For example, many schemes offer treatment through groups that manage diseases such as diabetes, and are equipped to give the medication and monitor that disease.
Can my scheme insist that it will only fund treatment that follows the appropriate protocol?
Yes. The minimum medicines for treatment of all PMB conditions have been published in the Government Gazette, and are known as treatment algorithms (benchmarks for treatment). Your scheme may decide for which medicines it will pay for each chronic condition, but the treatment may not be below the standards published in the treatment protocols. If your scheme’s cover conforms to that standard and you and your doctor decide that you should rather use different medication, then you may have to pay a co-payment towards the cost of that medicine. Your medical scheme must, however, pay for the treatment if your doctor can prove that the standard medication is ineffective or detrimental to your condition.
Your medical scheme may develop protocols to manage the use of benefits. Such protocols would specify, for example, types of tests, investigations and number of consultations. Members who might need more frequent or extra services than provided for in the protocols, can appeal to their scheme for these to be covered. The scheme’s appeal process might include a motivation from the treating doctor that explains the clinical reasons for the additional services
Can my scheme refuse to cover my medication if I need, or want, a brand other than that which the scheme says it will pay for?
Yes, the medical scheme may refuse to cover a part of the expenses. Your scheme may draw up what is known as a formulary – a list of safe and effective medicines that can be prescribed to treat certain conditions. The scheme may state in its rules that it will only cover your medication in full if your doctor prescribes a drug on that formulary. Generally speaking, schemes expect their members to stick to the formulary medication.
Often the medicines on the list will be generics – copies of the original brandname drug – that are less expensive but equally effective. If you want to use a brandname medicine that is not on the list, your medical scheme may foot only part of the bill and you will have to pay either the difference between the price of the medication you use and the one on the formulary, or a percentage co-payment as registered in the scheme rules.
If you suffer from specific side-effects from drugs on the formulary, or if substituting a drug on the formulary with one you are currently taking affects your health detrimentally, you can put your case to your medical scheme and ask the scheme to pay for your medicine. You can also appeal to the scheme if the formulary drug is ineffective and does not have the desired effect. If your treating doctor can provide the necessary proof and the scheme agrees that you suffer from side-effects, or that the drug is ineffective, then the scheme must give you an alternative and pay for it in full.
Can my scheme make me pay for a PMB from my savings account?
No, the regulations state that schemes cannot use your medical savings account to pay for PMBs.
Can my scheme make me pay a co-payment or levy on a PMB?
No, your scheme cannot charge you a co-payment or levy on a PMB if you follow the scheme formulary and protocol. However, if your scheme appoints a Designated Service Provider (DSP) and you voluntarily use a different provider, your scheme may charge you the difference between the actual cost and what it would have paid if you had used the DSP or the percentage co-payment as registered in the scheme rules.
Can schemes still set a chronic medicine limit?
Yes, your scheme can set a limit for your chronic medicine benefit. Any chronic medication you claim for will then reduce that limit, regardless of whether or not it is one of the PMB chronic conditions. However, if you exhaust your chronic medicine limit, your scheme will have to continue paying for any chronic medication you obtain from its DSP for a PMB condition.
When do co-payments apply to PMBs?
Co-payments can only be levied when members voluntarily choose not to go to a DSP for a specific service, and/or when beneficiaries voluntarily decide not to use protocol or formulary medication or treatments.
Co-payments have to be specified in the medical scheme rules and may never be 100% of the cost of the service or medication. Schemes are also not allowed to recover co-payments from beneficiaries’ savings accounts.
Can medical schemes prescribe protocols and formularies?
Schemes can most certainly prescribe treatment protocols in terms of PMBs to improve their risk management. However, should medical schemes make use of formularies, these must be developed on the basis of evidence-based medicine, taking cost-effectiveness and affordability into account while also being on par with the gazetted algorithms for chronic diseases and the public sector protocols for the Diagnosis Treatment Pairs.
Is there a process to follow when the formulary is not effective for a specific patient?
An appeals process is in place for a medical scheme member to request his or her scheme to carry the costs for treatment outside the scheme’s formulary. It is very important that complete medical records are submitted in support of the request. As the treating doctor, it is your responsibility to record the patient’s reaction to the formulary treatment, including all efforts that were made to determine correct dosages and/or other possible contributing factors.
If the PMB codes do not always correspond with the ICD-10 codes, what do I do to ensure a correct account?
The Council for Medical Schemes has compiled a guideline on how to reconcile the two sets of codes. However, whenever there are differences between the ICD-10 codes and PMB codes, the latter takes precedence.