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Family & work – why providing maternity cover in Kenya makes good business sense

December 11, 2017

While it’s becoming increasingly common for companies in Kenya to provide private medical insurance for employees, relatively few sign up for the additional option of maternity cover.

Yet a glance at the figures – along with emerging trends – suggests that this could be a missed investment opportunity for companies. After all, many women in Kenya combine a career with motherhood, and working mothers are both vital to household incomes and the country’s economy.

Let’s take a look at what’s behind this slow take-up of maternity insurance cover and how your organisation could stand to gain by going against the trend.

What’s putting employers off maternity insurance?

Most local medical insurance plans for groups of employees in Kenya offer maternity cover as an optional benefit at an extra charge, along with others such as dental and optical cover.

Most local medical insurance plans for groups of employees in Kenya offer maternity cover as an optional benefit at an extra charge, along with others such as dental and optical cover.

With most corporate health insurance products, these optional extras are only available if provided for a minimum number of beneficiaries, usually 10. Some providers insist that the extra premium for maternity cover must be paid for everyone included on the policy, whether male or female and regardless of their relationship status and whether partners are included. This prospect is obviously off-putting for small employers with limited budgets, especially those with a male-dominated workforce. However some policies only stipulate that a minimum of 10 women must be covered, which can include both employees and the wives of employees.

Some corporate packages from international private medical insurance providers include maternity cover as standard, with a lower minimum number of participants. However, the premiums will generally be higher than for equivalent local insurance coverage.

The array of options can be confusing, and comparing the maternity offerings from different insurers is not a simple task. To add to the confusion, some aspects of maternity care may be covered under general health insurance cover. For instance, with some packages, the costs involved in a woman’s first emergency caesarean section will be covered, up to a specified sub-limit, under her inpatient benefit. And some cover antenatal care under the outpatient benefit.

If yours is a small company, you might be tempted to avoid taking out maternity cover, perhaps with a view to adding it when a member of staff reveals that she’s pregnant. However, this simply isn’t feasible as health insurance plans generally enforce a waiting period before beneficiaries can claim for maternity care, and this may be nine months or longer.

In the US, where the health insurance market is far more advanced than here in Kenya, pregnancy and delivery account for the highest proportion of costs covered by employee-sponsored health insurance schemes. In Kenya, up to now, maternity insurance cover has not been seen as an essential part of employee benefits packages. But with the costs involved in having a baby increasing rapidly, especially in private hospitals, employers are doing their female employees a disservice by not considering it.

The costs of maternity care in Kenya

The National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) contributes a certain amount towards the costs involved in giving birth. The latest media reports suggest it pays up to KES 10,000 to help cover the costs of a normal delivery and KES 30,000 for a caesarean section. However this is a fraction of the overall costs of having a baby for mothers who choose to use private health facilities. Given the notoriously low standard of government health facilities, this will probably encompass most of your female workers.

While the NHIF contribution will nearly cover the costs of the birth in some community hospitals such as Ruaraka Uhai Neema Hospital, the charges can be much higher at exclusive private facilities.

The costs associated with giving birth in a private hospital nearly doubled between 2008 and 2016. Mater Hospital in Nairobi now charges between KES 60,000 and KES 80,000 for a normal delivery but a caesarean can cost between KES 165,000 and KES 270,000. Meanwhile MP Shah Hospital, also in Nairobi, charges from around KES 130,000 for a normal delivery.

The costs associated with giving birth in a private hospital nearly doubled between 2008 and 2016. Mater Hospital in Nairobi now charges between KES 60,000 and KES 80,000 for a normal delivery but a caesarean can cost between KES 165,000 and KES 270,000.

Of course there are also other expenses to consider, factoring in pre-natal and post-natal care. The mid-price Coptic Hospital charges KES 16,000 for pre-natal care, and KES 1,000 for each visit to its post-natal clinic.

And this is assuming all is well with mother and baby. If there are complications and either the mother or the newborn needs medical attention, this will rack up further costs. A young couple or single mother could struggle to meet these expenses, adding to the financial strain that inevitably comes with parenthood. A worst-case scenario is that money worries discourage them from seeking medical check-ups, routine scans or attention for problems during pregnancy, potentially putting them and their baby in unnecessary danger.

Any woman who is even considering the possibility of becoming pregnant will appreciate the reassurance of maternity health cover as part of her employee benefits package. If her current employer doesn’t offer it, this could tempt her to look for work with a more supportive company.

National focus on new mothers in the workplace

Although offering medical insurance with maternity cover is yet to catch on among employers in Kenya, there has been a strong national focus on new mothers in the workplace in recent years.

In 2010, more than 200 Kenyan CEOs and heads of HR signed a Statement of Commitment for Better Business Practices for Children put together by the Ministry of Health, Kenya Private Sector Alliance and the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund. This asserted their commitment to supporting the parents among their staff by providing adequate maternity leave, flexible working hours and support for nursing mothers.

In 2015 a health bill was published, which included clauses to encourage breastfeeding in the workplace. This was rejected following pressure from businesses. However a new proposal, the Breastfeeding Mothers Bill 2017, is currently under consideration. And another bill that could double statutory paid maternity leave from three to six months was recently proposed.

Employers who have pre-empted the law and started making special provisions for mothers of young children have been attracting attention. Mobile telecoms provider Safaricom has received widespread acclaim for its mother-friendly working conditions, which include childcare facilities, an on-site doctor and a private mother’s room, as well as comprehensive medical insurance. Red Lands Roses, a flower producing company, has been praised for its impressive in-house daycare facilities and services to help new mums transition back to work, including an on-site nurse and support to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months.

According to the World Bank, 47% of Kenya’s workforce is female, so it makes sense to pay attention to the needs of working women and their children. With this in mind, it is an ideal time for your company to stand out from the crowd by providing maternity insurance cover as standard. That would be a meaningful way to demonstrate that you not only welcome female employees but also support their right to become mothers.

How would your company benefit?

It’s well known that providing medical insurance for employees helps to improve engagement.

A 2013 survey found that employees in sub-Saharan Africa are more engaged than elsewhere in the world, with East Africa topping the charts at a score of 74% for employee engagement.

A 2013 survey found that employees in sub-Saharan Africa are more engaged than elsewhere in the world, with East Africa topping the charts at a score of 74% for employee engagement. The score was calculated based on the results of a survey, which looked at aspects including satisfaction with quality of life, work processes, relationships at work, career opportunities and company practices, as well as pay and benefits. Healthcare was one of the benefits respondents rated most highly, after salary.

It’s also worth noting that companies such as Red Lands Roses and Safaricom have found it easier to attract and retain female staff since introducing their mother-friendly policies. This has helped them hold on to employees with valuable skills and experience, reducing their recruitment and training costs. Introducing maternity insurance cover could have a similar impact, by demonstrating that you appreciate the value working mothers can bring to your organisation.

Offering a better benefits package than your competitors is a fantastic way to attract and retain good people. Some group maternity coverage even includes Lamaze classes to help women prepare mentally for the birth. This kind of support, going above and beyond expectations, will show employees that you care about them as individuals – a sure way to win their loyalty.

So while maternity coverage may not be a common component of an employee benefits package in Kenya, that shouldn’t deter you from investing in it. In fact, quite the reverse.

About the author: Alniz Popat, Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Alniz founded Lifecare 20 years ago in his native country Kenya to address the growing need for individual and corporate health insurance solutions. Soon thereafter Alniz expanded into Dubai, and in recent years he added yet another office with the establishment of Lifecare’s presence in Qatar. As CEO of Lifecare Alniz is responsible for the strategic direction of the business, and it is his drive and passion to help people get the right healthcare through affordable insurance that has resulted in Lifecare’s strong growth over the years. Today Alniz proudly oversees 100 caring and passionate employees who work tirelessly to deliver an excellent service to the 1,200 businesses and 25,000 members who are part of the Lifecare client portfolio. Alniz is a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Canada in Finance and Economics, and is an active member of the Young Presidents’ Organisation in Kenya, and the World Presidents’ Organisation in the United Arab Emirates.