Health Insurance and Tomatoes – by Obinnia Abajue

I was reflecting on the nature of some of the engagements I have had regarding buying health insurance in Nigeria and I ended up just likening it to the market trip we may all have made to buy tomatoes. Yes – Tomatoes!! 

You know that when you shop in the supermarket, you have a good sense of the quality you will get. Based on your need, you can choose firm tomatoesif you want to keep them a while or use them for salads, or softer ones if you want to blend them immediately. Your choice is also reflected in the clearly displayed pricing; with the softer tomatoes being cheaper than the firmer ones. In short, you know what you are getting.  

In contrast, when you go to the open market to buy tomatoes, you have no idea what you will get. The basket of tomatoes is usually stacked, and the bottom is well padded to give the illusion of quantityYou hope that you are not getting a bunch of rotten tomatoes hidden underneath a few firmerlooking ones since there is really no way to tell without taking the basket apartAs there is no listed (or quality-adjusted) pricewhat you pay depends on your experience or naiveté as a shopper. My mother recommended onethird of the asking price as a rule-of-thumb counterofferShe was a masterful haggler. 

An important difference in your expectations from a supermarket vs open market shopping trip is in the confidence you have in the product purchased. You are obviously more trusting of the supermarket product. How is this trust secured? By defining the product and the experience.  

At a supermarket, you expect proper labels on each product and that price differences are clearly based on brand or quantities, etc. Whereas in the open market, you expect to need street smarts to avoid being cheated since you have no right of recourse once you pay. You only hope that things work out.   

This is where it connects with health insurance. Health insurance is a product that must be purchased with confidence; confidence that when needed, it will do what it said it would. When you buy health insurance, you must know the benefits you are covered for, the limits of the cover in value or quantity, and the places where services can be received. While it may be attractive to purchase plans that claim to have everything “covered” with “no limits” or “unlimited”, remember that there is no such thingEvery company has a maximum risk capacity and the hospital(s) must always be paid. 

Insurance is not magic and in the same way that MMM, Nospecto, and other shady organizations disappeared, all insurance sales gimmicks will eventually crumble no matter how long they seem to last. The question is: will you be the fool left holding the bagIf you cannot explain how people can pay a relatively small amount for “unlimited” access to healthcare, it is because it is not possible. 

In short, health insurance is a supermarket purchase and not an open market one. When you buy health insurance, ensure that the benefits you are covered for are clearly stated. Be absolutely clear on the limits of the cover you will get in value or quantity and, know upfront, the places where services can be received. And if they tell you, it is “unlimited”, you know you are in the open market i.e. you are in the wrong place! In the words of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, “Ha, Run Oh!”. 

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