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Gym membership – an expensive free lunch?

Are you sacrificing your healthcare cover to have subsidised gym membership?

The vexed question that remains is this, in the event of an unforeseen major medical event, what is more important – access to the best available private medical care or getting on a treadmill and watching the latest movie while you bleed profusely?


We are sometimes asked why Genesis Medical Scheme (“Genesis”) does not offer gym memberships and cinema tickets in conjunction with membership of the scheme. The answer to the question depends on a good understanding of exactly what a medical scheme is – or should be!

Medical schemes are insurance businesses. Members (the “policy holders”) pay a monthly contribution (“premium”) to the medical scheme (the “insurer”) to purchase financial cover (“insurance protection”) against a future, largely unforeseen medical event. The emphasis and particular purpose of being in the medical aid business, is to provide financial cover in times of dire medical need.

Being healthy through regular exercise, good diet, weight control and other measures may well play an important role in preventing the onset of a medical condition. Laughter and entertainment are often touted as being as good as the best medicine. Subsidised gym membership or cheaper cinema tickets just cannot prevent an unforeseen major medical event. The fittest person in the world can still be knocked off a bicycle or be run over by a car. Being fit and healthy is something everyone must strive for, there can be no question about that. However, that is not actually what a medical scheme is all about.

As for “cheaper” – well let’s face it, who amongst us has ever had a free lunch?

The discounts that are given are paid for by someone. The running expenses of a gym do not decrease just because a group of people get a discount on membership fees! Moreover, if the gym wants to attract more members it has to do little more than generally reduce membership fees to the public at large. It follows further that if every member of a gym was a member by virtue of “cheaper gym membership via a medical scheme”, the gym would have to increase membership fees to balance its books, putting it in the same place as before. Somebody is subsidizing the cheaper gym fees. It could be the other members of the medical scheme or the full paying members of the gym, but one thing is for sure, a gym is a business with shareholders that want a return on their investment, no free lunches here!

Let’s try to put it another way: membership of one of the larger medical schemes with hospital benefits comparable to those offered by Genesis (in terms of the rate at which claims are reimbursed), will set a person back in excess of R2 500 per month. In addition, the person would need to pay R105 per month to be able to enjoy the benefits of “subsidised” gym and movies. The same hospital benefit option at Genesis currently costs R815 per person per month. It costs R399 per person per month to belong to a single Virgin Active gym. By belonging to Genesis AND the gym you are already saving at least R1391 PER month. This saving could buy you a whole lot of movies and pay for your reasonable out of hospital costs!

The vexed question that remains is this, in the event of an unforeseen major medical event, what is more important – access to the best available private medical care or getting on a treadmill and watching the latest movie while you bleed profusely?

Genesis strives to offer access to the very best available healthcare facilities for its members. In addition, the Scheme attempts to ensure that it can offer a reimbursement model that should ensure that members do not have to co-pay any part of their hospital account. The diversion of a part of monthly contributions for “side issues” will not assist members in their time of medical need. Furthermore, no well run business is going to sacrifice revenue for no gain in return. Someone always pays for the lunch! The burning question is, at whose expense? Am I sacrificing my healthcare cover to have subsidised gym membership? Will having seen the latest movie help me when I am in need of surgery?

Answer the question carefully and then remember why you joined Genesis.

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