Health insurance companies can’t justify increasing premiums

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As you all know, our private health insurance premiums are about to increase again from April 1 – 2.92 per cent on average, which is about $130 extra a year for a family.

But what about the devastating economic impacts of the coronavirus, not to mention the widespread disruption it’s causing to the waiting lists for a raft of medical procedures and surgeries?

Aagh, no, the vast majority don’t seem too bothered by that, as it turns out.

Even pleas from consumer groups demanding all health funds curtail their planned premium hikes of nearly three per cent have fallen on deaf ears.

Consumer group Choice said if people couldn’t use their health insurance for normal services, including surgeries which have been banned by the government, “there is no way they can justify increasing premiums”.

Leanne Wells CEO of the Consumers Health Forum urged funds to pull their heads in: “Elective surgery is normally a major part of private insurance outlays and it would be unacceptable for the industry to be profiting from a coronavirus pandemic at the expense of members,” she said.

I myself have been on the receiving end in recent weeks of being unable to access my health care fund because of the virus. I was supposed to get four basal cell carcinomas removed from my head, but the specialist was told his hospital allocation had been scrapped because of the pandemic.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to wait because BCC’s aren’t super-urgent, but does my health care provider give me a call to say sorry about that James, we’ll give you a discount on your premiums to compensate for the inconvenience and delay? Not likely.

About the only fund with any respectable numbers that does seem to have a conscience, appears to be Western Australia’s HBF, which was due to implement a relatively minor 1.98% rise.

HBF’s chief executive officer John Van Der Wielen said the decision to cancel the increase was made with their members’ interests at heart — many whom are struggling with the sudden change in economic conditions.

So what about the bigger players?

Medibank, AHM and Bupa have announced an initial support package of more than $50 million which includes allowing members to suspend their policies or access relief on their premiums.

For example, Bupa won’t halt the hike and instead is offering struggling members relief of up to 10 per cent off their health fund premiums.

“From today, customers who have lost their jobs or are experiencing other financial hardship as a result of COVID-19, will have access to some financial assistance,” Bupa said in a statement.

“The company has made the decision to provide more targeted relief and larger levels of assistance to those members who need it most as opposed to a smaller benefit to everyone. That could mean premium relief, or the ability to suspend their cover, or a range of other measures.”

Chief Executive Officer at Private Healthcare Australia, Dr Rachel David, told A Current Affair no one in financial distress will go without getting help from their health fund at the moment, but not all insurance funds are able to waive the April 1 premium increase.

Private healthcare Australia is introducing measures to help industry members. Some of the measures being considered are:

  • Every single hospital policy from basic to gold will include full coverage for hospital costs for people affected by COVID-19
  • People experiencing financial hardship will be able to access relief
  • Telehealth services from psychologists will be covered
  • Health funds will continue to provide access to and reimburse emergency dental services

“One thing I can absolutely reassure health fund members is if there is a reduction in elective surgery and other claims, health funds won’t hold onto that money, they will continue to use it to look after members throughout the COVID crisis,” Dr David said.

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