BACKGROUND: Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMBs) in South Africa (SA) are a set of minimum health services that all members of medical aid schemes have access to regardless of their benefit options or depleted funds. Medical aid schemes are liable to pay for these services. However, ~40% of all complaints received by the Council for Medical Schemes (CMS) are in relation to PMBs. Individuals/stakeholders who are unsatisfied with judgments on their complaints are allowed to appeal. OBJECTIVES: To determine and describe the pattern of PMB appeals from 1 January 2006 to 31 December 2016. METHODS: This was a descriptive cross-sectional study that utilised the CMS Judgments on Appeals database. Data for PMBs, levels of appeal, judgments, appellants, respondents and medical scheme types were extracted. The CMS’s lists of chronic conditions, PMBs and registered schemes were used to confirm PMBs and to categorise schemes as either open (i.e. to all South Africans) or restricted (i.e. only open to members of specific organisations). Data were extracted and frequencies were calculated using Stata software, version 14. RESULTS: All eligible appeal reports (N=340) were retrieved and 123 PMB appeals were included in the study (36.2%). The median number of PMB appeals per year was 11 (interquartile range 9 - 27). Open schemes accounted for 82.1% of all the PMB appeals. Half of the total appeals (50.4%, 62/123) were by medical aid schemes appealing their liability to pay for PMBs, and of these 69.4% (43/62) were found in favour of members. The remaining half (49.6%, 61/123) were appeals by members appealing that schemes were liable to pay, and of these 80.3% (49/61) were found in favour of the medical aid schemes. Treatment options that were scheme exclusions constituted 34.4% (21/61) of reasons why schemes were found not liable to pay. Various types of cancers and emergency conditions constituted one-quarter of all PMB appeals.
CONCLUSIONS. While the pattern is unclear and the extent of the problem is masked, this study shows that a quarter of the conflict resulting in PMB appeals was due to various types of cancers and emergency conditions. Medical schemes should revise their guidelines, policies and criteria for payment of these two services and improve their communication with healthcare providers and members.