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Dominican Republic 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Andrés Mejía, CEO of ARS Palic, on increasing coverage, reducing informal economic activity, and short-term expectations for the sector.

How has ARS worked to increase its market share and national coverage over the past year?

We can proudly say that we have reached our objective. Our market share has grown by 11% in two years, up to 21%. This has been possible thanks to the fact that we are the fastest growing company in the health insurance sector in the Dominican Republic. In the last couple of years we have expanded our number of affiliates from 694 to 810, and our geographic coverage has grown too. Now, we have offices in 20 different cities and municipalities throughout the country.

How has the insurance market evolved in the Dominican Republic in the last few years and how has ARS Palic adapted to this change?

The sector is growing rapidly, due to the fact that the country's social insurance system is still relatively young. It was only set up eight years ago and covered around 500,000 people. Today 67% of the population is covered, or approximately 6.7 million people. One of the main challenges we faced was adapting to a sector which was changing rapidly. We always look to the future and adapt to the increasing number of affiliates and medical services provided and covered by the system. We have put a lot of effort into being ready to capture these changes from a human resources and technological point of view. Our target was always to grow faster than the sector, which we have achieved year after year.

How has technology transformed the way ARS Palic does business?

Technology has been one of the leading drivers behind ARS Palic's growth and expansion. We believe technology has a vital role to play in different spheres of our daily activity and interaction with customers. We were the first insurance company with our own native app and the first with a digital transactional system for service providers and intermediaries. Internally, we have implemented CMR software with Salesforce to manage relationships with our customers. New technologies enable us to provide high quality services to the more than 800,000 affiliates that we have. We always bear in mind in our strategy that we live in an increasingly demanding and ever-growing world in terms of technology. All in all, better technology makes us more competitive.

What are some major challenges facing the country in terms of expanding coverage among the population?

In order to expand social security coverage to a larger segment of the population, we need to tackle the informal economy. Half the population is engaged in this unregulated economy. We also need to keep in mind that not everybody within that group can contribute to the system and some might need subsidies. We need to better understand their situation. This will be one of the main topics of discussion in the near future as we start discussing the finer details of legal and labor reforms in the country. We need to find the tools and strategies to reduce informality in our economy, encourage these micro entrepreneurs and SMEs to regularize their situation, and help people subscribe to the social security system independently. Health insurance is a good way to start reducing the informal economy before moving into things like pensions and other insurance products.

How did the health insurance sector in the Dominican Republic react to the Zika virus outbreak?

The Zika virus was a major challenge for the country because it required joint efforts at the national level between the Ministry of Health, in terms of education and control, and between the health insurance sector. The country as a whole responded well to the virus by focusing on the root of the problem. For example, we worked closely with UNICEF to implement informative prevention campaigns at the national level. In terms of the impact on the sector, this was quite significant. We saw the number of emergency cases, hospital treatments, and health insurance claims go up considerably. The government responded to this crisis with a centralized purchase of drugs for the treatment of the Zika virus alongside other regional governments which had the same problem. This brought down the cost of the treatment for Guillain-Barré, a syndrome associated with Zika, from around DOP1 million DOP (USD21,882) per patient to DOP286,000 (USD5,865) per patient. This was a perfect example of a joint public-private collaboration that achieved much better results for the population. At the moment, our attention is on pregnant women that were infected and their newborns we now need to check on. Nevertheless, Zika is no longer an epidemic problem and the situation is under control at the national level.

What do you see the insurance sector looking like in five years' time?

We need to tackle the challenge of independent workers as well as micro and other small enterprises as quickly as possible. Once we do so, the sector will open the door for many growth opportunities. We should also see fewer industry players in five years' time, which will lead to a further concentration of providers and more advancement in treatment methods as well as technologies. I also foresee changes in the provision of services and access to service models. Today, we have a totally open model where anyone can go anywhere. This is not economically sustainable in the long run. Nonetheless, I see more people being covered by a higher quality of services in the years to come.

What are ARS Palic's goals for 2017?

We want to consolidate our growth above the market rate and do so in a sustainable and socially responsible way. We have been certified by the “Great Place to Work Institute" as one of the top companies in the Caribbean and are committed to offering the best environment to our employees. We want to continue our technological transformation and maximize the possibilities of our CRM platform. We foresee more technological changes related to risk management in order to better prevent chronic diseases, which is one of the key health challenges in the world right now.