OBINNIA ABAJUE the Chief Executive Officer and Director of Hygeia Healthcare Nigeria, with over 20 years’ experience across a number of sectors including banking and health. He spoke to BusinessDay’s OBOKOH ANTHONIA on a number of issues regarding health insurance industry over the next few years not only in terms of market penetration and coverage but also a significant increase in technological sophistication. Excerpts:
Hygeia’s success story
Hygeia has over 30 years extensive experience implementing healthcare solutions to corporate and non- corporate clients that cut across all sectors of the economy with strategic investment from notable global institutional investors including Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd, generally known as Swiss Re; International Finance corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank Group; Investors For Health in Africa (IFHA), an Africa-focused Healthcare fund backed by FMO, Goldman Sachs and Social Investor Foundation for Africa; CIEL healthcare: A French healthcare company based in Mauritius, providing hospitals in partnership with Fortis Healthcare of India; and The Elebute Family: Professor and Professor Elebute who are the founders of Hygeia HMO and still remain shareholders. Hygeia has been at the forefront of health care provision in Nigeria. Hygeia has also been active in driving the quality of care delivery and access and has contributed towards setting the standard for provider accreditation in the country.
With 2 decades of banking experience, how was your journey to becoming the CEO of Hygeia HMO?
Well, banking is probably the most sophisticated services industry in Nigeria today and having worked with some of the finest and leading financial institutions in Nigeria and Africa, I believed that it was time for me to apply that learning and experience to an area with a bigger impact on the Nigerian society. The fundamentals of any society are its education and its health systems. Investment in these areas is what guarantees the availability of human resources/skill and the competitiveness of the society and its labour force over time. The biggest attraction of developed countries to our people which is what supports emigration is the opportunity for a better education and/or healthcare. It may also surprise you that the biggest deficits in labour are also in these areas so continuing improvement of these sectors provides for increased employment opportunities in these societies. In addition, when you consider the maturity of our country and the gradual reduction of maternal and infant mortality, the demand for better health care and access to it means that there is a significant opportunity for intermediation and inclusion in the health sector. So, it made sense, when the opportunity presented itself for me to move into the health insurance industry to contribute my quota to developing Nigeria actively.
Plans, products, services and what makes them unique?
At the heart of mission at Hygeia HMO is the provision of affordable access to quality healthcare. We are committed to making healthcare available for all. Fortunately, this is completely aligned with the government’s commitment to Universal Health Coverage. In keeping with our mission, we have developed plans that cater to the needs of various Individual, SME and Corporate needs in the market. So, in addition to the typical corporate health insurance services that we offer, we now make it possible for an individual to purchase a health plan to cover himself or his/family without being part of a company. To ensure that our enrollees/beneficiaries across the country are able to access healthcare more easily, we are also putting more power in the hand of our enrollees via our Hygeia Mobile App. I would therefore say that our plans, products and services are appropriate, affordable, transparent and convenient to use.
Constraints in your sector and strategies Hygeia put in place to mitigate those threats?
As I mentioned earlier, limited awareness is a major issue as most Nigerians are not aware and do not understand or appreciate the need for health insurance. This is why we see so many cases of people begging for assistance to take care of health conditions/issues that have befallen them or their loved ones. Most of these were avoidable if they had purchased health plans when they were healthy. They would have had access to periodic health checks and would have been in a position to detect and manage the conditions early before they degenerated. A key benefit of health insurance is the reduction of the financial risk of ill-health which many have not taken advantage of. Additional issues that impact the industry include that absence of provider regulation and quality standards for hospital care and management. There are also issues of fraud and the limited availability of data which impacts product development and risk management. Hygeia is working with various partners to address most of these issues starting with product development and awareness through various media and channels. We are deploying technology across the value chain to improve access to healthcare as well as improve the transparency and service process for healthcare access. Services like our mobile app, online claims payment for providers and USSD verification tools help to improve access to healthcare while protecting against identity fraud at hospitals. Hygeia is a thought-leader in the health industry and responsible for critical engagement for a for key industry participants.
Current trends prevalent in the healthcare industry. Your projections for the sector in the nearest future?
There is currently a lot of focus on new investments in hospitals and some in health industry technology. However, over the next few years, I see the top 2 issues being (1) technology because of the environmental constraints. Awareness and capacity deficiency can be mitigated by technology adoption. Smartphone technology is getting cheaper still and more available and affordable while health apps and virtual reality technology are also coming mainstream. These developments will make it easier to reach more people for preventive and primary care services. Self Service technology also means that more people can get help through non-traditional medical centres reducing the need to more specialised medical centres. (2) Health insurance coverage because the assurance of payment is critical for investment and the access to finance is based on guaranteed cash flows which are only available with health insurance. Furthermore increased risk awareness will encourage more people to see to transfer the financial burden of ill health which will drive product development and demand for insurance products in the health space. Based on the above, I expect significant growth in the health insurance industry over the next few years not only in terms of market penetration and coverage but also a significant increase in technological sophistication.