Original Research

Reasons why insured consumers co-pay for medicines at retail pharmacies in Pretoria, South Africa

Ntobeko M. Mpanza, Hazel Bradley, Richard Laing
African Journal of Primary Health Care & Family Medicine | Vol 11, No 1 | a1878 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v11i1.1878 | © 2019 Ntobeko M. Mpanza, Hazel Bradley, Richard Laing | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 09 July 2018 | Published: 27 March 2019

About the author(s)

Ntobeko M. Mpanza, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa
Hazel Bradley, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa
Richard Laing, School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, Bellville, South Africa; and, Department of Global Health, School of Public Health, Boston University, Massachusetts, United States


Background: Costly prescription medicines with existing cheaper alternatives tend to be purchased by medically insured consumers of healthcare. In South Africa medical scheme members pay higher out-of-pocket payments for medicines than those without insurance.

Aim: This study explored reasons for co-payments among insured Pretoria medical scheme members purchasing prescription medicines at private retail pharmacies, despite being insured and protected against such payments.

Setting: The study took place in retail pharmacies in Pretoria, Gauteng Province, South Africa.

Methods: An exploratory qualitative study was performed. Semi-structured interviews were conducted among purposefully sampled medical scheme members (12) and nine key informants (six pharmacists and three regulators – one for the pharmaceutical industry, one for medical schemes and one for pharmacists). Three pharmacies (two corporate and one independent) each were identified from high and low socio-economic areas. Scheme members were interviewed immediately after having made a co-payment (eight) or no co-payment (four) from the selected pharmacies. Interviews were recorded, coded and organised into themes.

Results: Co-payments were deemed confusing, unpredictable and inconsistent between and within pharmacies. Members blamed schemes for causing co-payments. Six sampled pharmacies rarely stocked the lowest-priced medicines; instead, they dispensed medicines from manufacturers with whom they had a relationship. Corporate pharmacies were favoured compared to independents and brand loyalty superseded cost considerations. Medical scheme members did not understand how medical schemes’ function.

Conclusion: Unavailability of lowest-priced medicines at pharmacies contributes to co-payments. Consumer education about generics and expedited implementation of National Health Insurance could significantly reduce co-payments.


co-payments; high socio-economic; low socio-economic; medical scheme; medicines pricing policy; National Health Insurance; pharmacist; prescribed minimum benefit; retail pharmacy; regulator


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