Discovery Health and Principles – Way to Go Discovery

(Picture courtesy of the Wall Street Journal)

This post might be seen to be a little overboard with regards to its content, but bear with me if you please.

Last week a friend of mine received an email from Discovery Mail Vitality advertising some soccer products people can buy from them to celebrate the 2010 FIFA World Cup being in South Africa.

SA Flag Side Mirror CoverOne of these products includes these SA flag mirror covers that go over the car side-view mirrors. Most of us here in SA have seen these being sold by street sellers or some of the local shops.

Here’s my rant: why the heck are Discovery Health, a health insurance company, depriving street-sellers, who have at last found something that is selling like crazy (and have an opportunity to actually make some decent money for a change) of their customers by selling the same products? If you are looking to apply for health insurance visit, you will be able to find the right policy for you and your family.

Discovery’s principle in doing this baffles me.

It’s not like they are providing me a value-add by selling me soccer stuff. What the heck does an SA flag mirror cover have to do with health insurance? NOTHING. Why’s Discovery selling them? TO MAKE MONEY, not because they probably give a hoot about the soccer or the country. What are they effectively doing? Depriving the street seller of some market share. They are effectively depriving poor people of a market opportunity.

I believe in free market, but also in integrity. I think that even something like this puts a company’s integrity under question. If they wanted to celebrate soccer fever then they could have run a competition or sent out free fan-packs to certain clients or given out tickets to poor people or something. But no, rather they sought to oust the man in the street by taking a big market share from them and selling the exact same product at a more expensive price. Way to go Discovery. Nice way to love our country.


23 thoughts on “Discovery Health and Principles – Way to Go Discovery”

  1. That’s the way the free market works, and that’s why I hate health insurance companies and prefer mutual medical aids. And mine, which is a mutual one — at least we still get to vote for the trustees — once conducted a poll about whether they should have a “loyalty programme”, one of those things where you get a card that makes you eligible for discounts at shops and things like that. I’m sure outfits like Discovery do that sort of thing without asking. But in our case themembers voted against it, and said either lower ther contributions or increase the benefits but stick to your core business. We’d rather pay less for medicine when we need it than get dscounts of kitch junk that has nothing to do with health.

  2. We’d rather pay less for medicine when we need it than get dscounts of kitch junk that has nothing to do with health.

    Thank you! Someone who agrees! 🙂 🙂 For some reason, so many people I speak to think Discovery is great for its Vitality loyalty programme. Great, so I can get rented cars at a cheaper price? What the heck does that have to do with my health?? And how often in my life will I need that?

    And yes, I bet even though I’m not on Vitality I am paying for the service anyway. All the little discounts we can get at shops etc. are obviously being built into our medical contributions, whether we agree to go on Vitality or not. Makes me mad.

    What is your medical aid?

    1. My medical aid is BestMed.

      They tried to introduce one of those “loyalty” thingies a few years back, and most of the members voted against it.

  3. Hi Ryan

    “I believe in free market, but also in integrity.”

    But is a cancelling word it cancels all the words said before it, so says Oprah.
    I’m interested in this conversation, How is Discovery having no integrity, they are a bussiness that listens to its customers needs. Discovery Health is just a part.

    Merry Helper

  4. Hi David,

    Looking at Discovery’s values, I don’t think they live up to these.

    I’m not a perfectionist, so I don’t think everyone will always live up to the values they espouse, but my point in the post was to show that free market should be coupled with social responsibility. Discovery’s values (on paper) indicates a desire to meet social needs, but what they are doing here goes against that principle (in action).

    To zone in on it – I seriously doubt millions of customers asked Discovery to please supply mirror covers to themselves. Rather, Discovery saw an opportunity to make money and went for it — perhaps to the expense of the man in the street.

    At its core (seeing an opportunity to maximise profits) there’s no problem with that, hence free market, however (‘but’, if you prefer 😀 ) in its context it goes against decent integrity. Values must be applied to context, in this context their values fall short. Principles must be put into action, and that requires an understanding of context. As far as I’m concerned, they blew it here.

    There are other things with Discovery that irk me. They are very expensive and word on the street is they make incredible profits from their medical aid. Something like 200 percent, I heard. They can be a pain when it comes to paying out to doctors / medical professionals who they owe money, etc. while they make profits and interest on money. These are basic things which (should) raise eyebrows.

  5. Alo Alo

    Discovery works within a framework and so in some cases they need to put a large markup to cover costs and profit. If customers don’t like it they are free to leave and will if Discovery is robbing folk. That said they have taken the time to register as a company with the state such that they have to pay tax and form part of a state controlled economy.

    I hate paying tax to the “corrupt state” but hey give to Caeser etc.


  6. Hey Ryan

    I tend to agree with Merry Helper.

    I agree that having a profit incentive breeds ‘unethics’, But the only viable option is some kind of social democracy – mutualising or voting or something, which I think has more intrinsic problems. Street vending is not sustainable.

    One also has to look at what Discovery is doing. We reviewed all the medical aids when we were looking to include ground staff on the medical aid. Discovery were the only ones to provide a real (and very innovative) solution. So now families who previously would have to rely on state medical now have themselves and their families on an affordable medical aid, and they are able to actually use it with good local doctors and good quality hospitals.

    Another point that I’d take issue with is the idea of the ‘poor street vendors’ on the roadside. Besides the fact that street vending is illegal for any number of valid reasons not the least of which are uncollected taxes and road safety, and that most street vendors are not poverty level neither are they South African; I also don’t get the ‘poor them’ stance.
    This is not a sustainable situation, we need entrepreneurs who have the guts to build a brand, fight through the Governmental requirements, make investments, give guarantees, reject pirated goods. People who have a vision to build something that will last… like Discovery.
    Richard Branson started by giving a local public phone as his business number, that’s because his vision was bigger than his budget. We need some entrepreneurs like that.
    I’m in favour of anyone who undercuts the traffic light vendor; traffic light vending does not building an economy, neither does it alleviate poverty.

    my return rant :^)


  7. Hey Alan,

    The core issue here for me is that mirror covers have got nothing to do with Discovery’s business at all – neither as a health insurance company nor as a financial services provider.

    Pick ‘n Pay are selling Vuvuzela’s and the like and that’s ok — I mean, they’re a department and grocery store, they’re about selling everything.

    It’s like Discovery starting to sell pens and mugs and PlayStation 3’s. I mean, these things have nothing to do with their business.

    So I see the underlining principle guiding this being about taking advantage of the World Cup; finding a quick way to make some money. Although I doubt they made that much really. Some might say it’s entrepreneurial, sure, but that’s also a nice way of disguising greed. All greed is entrepreneurial in some way. Heck, drug dealers are entrepreneurial.

    We surely need some sort of socialism (I use that term loosely) in our capitalism. I mean, history has shown Laissez-faire to result in horrible atrocities against man, women and child. It’s not about making money at the expense of everything and everyone.

    I don’t really think the government should step in for something so petty as this, but at the same time I’m not in favour of anything that undercuts the street vendor, only some things. Some of these guys show a lot of ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit.

    I agree that we need to make street vending a sustainable and taxable business, though. But at the same time we also need to make sure we don’t apply our western ideas of success / entrepreneurship over the South African street vendor. West does not always mean right 😉 I add that just for thought.

    But there is a lot that I can agree with that you and Merry Helper have said.

  8. Hey Ryan

    I get your point, but I don’t agree :^)

    There are a few separate issues:

    1. Discovery’s Core Business: OK, but why is that an issue, surely Discovery has the right to sell whatever they want. It’s their business plan.
    Pic & Pay are also selling banking, is that OK?
    I don’t think I have an opinion on what other people want to sell.
    I’m sure that Discovery is a greedy company but what you’re describing is not any different from what I do every day to grow my business and take advantage of opportunities that come along. Be it world cup or whatever.
    Hey even the traffic light marketers are taking advantage of the World Cup.

    2. Socialism
    Yes, I agree that we need some socialism influence. But we’re talking here about being socially driven or capitalist driven. Each have strengths and weaknesses, but a well regulated capitalism is at least a bit progressive (eve with all it’s evils).
    My point is that Discovery is not making money at the expense of everything and everyone. There will be people who have a bad experience with Discovery, but they are doing some things right.

    3. I am still in favour of anything that undermines the street vendor. What example of entrepreneurial spirit can you show me. I have never seen an entrepreneurial street vendor. Being sloppy and unwilling to commit can look very entrepreneurial, but it isn’t.

    4. I agree that the West does not mean right, I don’t suggest that it does. But I can say categorically that street vending is wrong, as I say, for many reasons.
    The problem is that the Government can not make street vending sustainable or taxable. It is not sustainable or taxable by nature, and it never will be.
    If you want to make street vending taxable or sustainable the one thing you have to do is change it from being street vending.
    Now a great debate would be about what we could make it into. I agree that to make it into Western capitalism is not the answer, neither is it the only alternative. But that is a separate debate.
    The soap box I stand on (without trying to sell anything) – is that street vending is wrong on every level. It’s wrong in NY City, in Beijing, Blanture and Jo’burg.

    I think we tend to be sentimental about culture, there is something endearing about a 2nd world street vendor. But that does not make it entrepreneurial. I believe that a culture, an ethos and any behaviour that exhibits it should be viewed as objectively as possible.

    I know I’m being a bit belligerent here 🙂 but this is such an important issue! It cuts to the heart of our society.

    My thoughts.

  9. Al,

    You’ll have to give me some time to construct a decent argument against your very convincing post 😉

    I’m still not sold but I’ll have to spend a little time digesting and right now have someone on my back for a deadline.

  10. Alo Alo

    Al my pal you are on it. I don’t think we can solve the injustices of Capitalism on this blog nor do I think Socialism holds the keys. Freedom needs to be a cornerstone.

    Every now and then the state/community takes all the vendors gives them a complex at low rates and it works, I think loosely of Bruma or the Oriental Plaza. Next up are the Somali Plaza and the Zimbo plaza but that said new strugglers will fill the street vending area again in time.

    Merry Helper

  11. I think we can solve at least some social problems by blogging in general; but I get your point.
    I do think it’s easy to actually start getting somewhere with a synthesis, you know? overcome come offenses, start seeing the other point of view; and then our Cynical side kicks in and asks what difference in makes anyway. I think it makes some difference, but not as much as I’d like.
    Let me put it this way. The kinds of ideas and ideals we’re discussing set the platform for 50 – 100 years time. But I want them to change policy tomorrow.

    About the low rate schemes, I’m not sure if they work so well. I agree that they are far better than traffic light vending, but they never seem to last. Even the Bruma Flea market is not doing so well, and, as you point out, it does not stop the flow of street vending.

    The solution, I believe is a lot more difficult to achieve than merely making laws or changing economic policy. But the results, once we solve it, are enormous!

    The solution is a cultural one. We have to stop being so ‘precious’ about our cultures. We should weigh them up, slice and dice them, mix and match. Take what works and abandon what does not work!
    We should teach out kids to rebel against what does not work culturally. And stop harking back to what is sentamental but does not work.
    I’m not so much against men on the side of the road peddling goods. I am against the worldview that puts them there.
    I had a long discussion with a guy who sells art on an embankment outside Eastgate. He’s a Zimbabwian and has had his stock taken twice by the police. Absolutely none of his profits go back to Zim where his family own a large piece of farming land. He has at least a decade experience farming.
    So what, I ask, is he doing selling art on an embankment by Eastgate?
    Not only is South Africa loosing, in every way, Zim is also loosing in every way. The problem is that he has no value for what he can do for others, especially women and children in his own family. He does not believe that it makes you happier to give than to receive. He is “Nature’s Child,” as Albert Schweitzer put it.
    The problem is his culture.

  12. Great points, Al. This is a great discussion.

    “Now a great debate would be about what we could make it into. I agree that to make it into Western capitalism is not the answer, neither is it the only alternative. But that is a separate debate.”

    Any brief points you can mention that point towards the other alternatives?

  13. Al you make some good points.
    From my experience in Singapore education is a true long-term solution that works. Provided you set up structures such that push the uneducated out of the country. Was in Knysna in March and at the one Spar there had a problem with illegal vendors outside. Chatted to the owner in Jun and he said that they fixed the problem , Police Force.
    The problem isn’t fixed to me tho.
    The solution lies in education: When the community is educated enough, not to buy off the streets the problem will disappear but we are worlds away from that. With everything regulated we can better serve a common goal.
    Was in OZ in ’97 to investigate leaving the country, can honestly say twas that regulation and control that kept me away.


  14. Hmmm, I agree that education is part of the solution, even a very big part. But it does not solve anything until you are able to get under the skin of the culture. The culture change must be primary if eduction is to have the desired effect. Chesterton said, “we only send a bot to school once he’s too old to learn anything useful.”
    On a cultural level the truth of those words is staggering.
    The reason why education in Singapore had such a great effect was that the culture was reformed under it.
    Schweitzer put it something like this, we can educate “nature’s child” (his term) so that he can read, write and do arithmetic, to the level that he get’s a clerk’s job. This job and it’s pay puts him is a much higher income and social bracket than his peers, so much so that he can afford to buy his wife shoes imported from France. But she has to take them off to go home because he has no value for a paved pathway to his hut.
    We can import machines to cut timber into straight planks, but they will have to be exported because “nature’s child” places no value in a straight plank. He will continue to make his hut out of sticks with a mud path, no matter what his education level.

    A book I highly recommend, in this regard, is “Discipling Nations” by Darrow L. Millar! Here’s an excerpt which, I think, illustrates my point:
    “Josie Kornegay worked as a Peace Corps nurse for the Serabu Mission
    Hospital in the Bo District of Sierra Leone, West Africa. she had just finished
    teaching a microbiology course for 10 local nursing students. All of them had
    worked hard, mastered the information, and demonstrated knowledge of
    the viruses, bacteria and other microscopic organisms that cause the disease.
    After the final exam, one student raised her hand and said, ‘Miss, I know that you taught us about polio, but do you want to know how people really
    get it?’
    Her heart sinking, Josie asked, ‘How?’
    ‘It’s the witches!’ her student said. ‘They are invisible. They fly around at
    night and bite people’s backs!”

    I think that we are much to “precious” about our cultures, as if they have rights of their own. They don’t! We should let them die so that people can be rescued out of them. From that point, yes, education is the answer.

    Sorry, I’m being controversial, but it’s such an important point!

  15. Pingback: Thom Yorke: Don’t Sign With the Industry / Corporate Culture « Ryan Peter Blogs and stuff

  16. My new post on Thom Yorke and corporate culture may add something to this conversation. See it here.

    While the conversation has moved to something very interesting on culture, I still do wonder if my big issue with corporate is that corporate is all about profit and precious little else.

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