Inquiry told schemes may have missed ‘implicit racial bias’

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While medical schemes were apparently “at pains” to avoid any obvious racial profiling, attempts to be colour blind may have had the unintended effect of making it more difficult to address racial bias, a witness told the CMS inquiry into allegations of racism in the medical schemes sector.

Polity reports that this is according to Professor Melissa Steyn, chair of SA National Research in Critical Diversity Studies at the University of Witwatersrand, who has given a presentation to a panel investigating alleged racial profiling by medical aid schemes.

The Council for Medical Schemes, which regulates private health financing through medical aid schemes, announced in May that it had launched a four-month investigation into allegations of racial profiling against black and Indian private medical practitioners by medical aids. Allegations included racial profiling, blacklisting for payments, blocked payments, demands of confidential clinical information, bullying, harassment, coercion, entrapment and the use of hidden cameras.

Steyn was asked to appear before the panel to discuss whether systems used to detect fraud and abuse in the medical aid sector could also be racially biased, notes Fin24. Citing a UN report published earlier this year – the title of which she did not immediately give – Steyn said the medical schemes concerned appeared to have followed many of the UN-recommended “checks and balances”. These included creating anonymous databases.

“To me at a level of form it is quite clear companies are at pains to avoid falling into naïve traps around racial profiling. One should assume that this is done sincerely with the intention of doing things correctly,” Steyn said. “This could be seen as an attempt to be rigorously colour blind,” she added. However, she said, “the problem lies more in what is not there than what is there.” According to Steyn, the ideal, if aiming for equality, would be to aim for “racial cognisance” instead of attempting colour blindness.

“You can’t come out of a system with a history like ours (which is) thoroughly racially inflected (…) straight into some kind of race neutral system,” she is quoted in the report as saying. “There has to be some kind of racial cognisance in which you are taking these kinds of issues really seriously.”

Polity report Fin24 report

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