'Road Accident Fund a poor medical debt payer'

Penwell Dlamini

Penwell Dlamini

The past five years have been hard for Nana Happiness Nxumalo, who has been struggling to get medical help after being hit by a car.

Nxumalo, 32, of Mofolo North in Soweto was hit by a car in New Canada on September 4 2003.

She broke her right leg and injured her left knee, which saw her spending three months at the Helen Joseph Hospital. She underwent four operations at the hospital to save her right leg.

"When I was discharged I was in pain. My right leg had pins and my left leg had been plastered," said Nxumalo.

She did not pay for any of the medical bills during her stay at Helen Joseph.

Nxumalo has been consulting doctors at Helen Joseph because her leg is not healing but is instead rotting inside. Her last X-ray results showed that her bones were crooked.

She lodged a third party claim with the RAF last year. But instead of financial compensation, the RAF gave her a certificate which they said she could use for her medical bills. The undertaking certificate promises to pay up to 70percent of Nxumalo's medical bills for her injuries.

"But doctors do not want to treat me when I produce it," she said.

Nxumalo went for a medical examination at a private doctor in central Johannesburg, and RAF paid the R3000 bill. But they refuse to pay for an operation which she is supposed to undergo.

Ronald Bobroff, vice-president of the South African Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, said this was common. "This is a good example of how the RAF fails the people. In almost all cases, doctors do not want to accept the undertaking certificate because the RAF takes time to pay or does not pay at all."

Bobroff said though the new RAF Amendment Act had taken effect on August 1, people still needed lawyers to get anything from RAF.

The new law says that RAF should pay claimants straight into their bank accounts - and not through the lawyers.

The SA Medical Association (Sama) echoed Bobroff's statement: "The RAF is a poor debt payer. Our members have thousands of rands in unpaid claims, so they cannot treat patients on a promise made by an unreliable payer," said Dr Kgosi Letlake, Sama's spokesman.

RAF spokesman Ayanda Vilakazi said case managers were already assigned to help Nxumalo.

"The case managers are medical professionals who will assess Nxumalo's condition and then determine what kind of treatment she requires," said Vilakazi.