Health insurers to the rescue

Private health funds will defer the 1 April private health premium increase for at least six months, said Private Healthcare Australia chief executive Dr Rachel David.

On 1 April, health premiums were expected to increase, on average, 2.9 per cent – the lowest increase in 19 years.

However, in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the loss of thousands of jobs, health funds have deferred the increase for at least six months and will introduce a wider package of support measures to relieve pressure on consumers, including hospital coverage for members affected by COVID-19 for all levels of hospital cover.

Health funds will also cover telehealth services provided by psychologists from 30 March, and have plans to cover telehealth physiotherapy services.

Private Healthcare Australia said health funds have been working with government and regulators on ways to ease financial pressure on their members while maintaining critical health services.

“This is a continuing process and health funds will be regularly reviewing their financial position in coming months to provide as much support as possible to members. It is a tough time for all Australians and circumstances are changing rapidly. We will do all we can to support our members and the Australian community,” said Dr David.

“At the same time health funds also need to maintain the government’s legislated capital adequacy requirements and must remain in good shape so we can fund the backlog of elective surgery that will certainly occur in 6–12 months’ time.”

Last week, health insurer nib announced it would provide premium relief for members experiencing financial hardship and full coverage for COVID-19-related treatment across all products even if currently excluded.

Postponing the increase was the responsible thing to do given deteriorating economic conditions and extreme financial pressures on so many members, said nib managing director Mark Fitzgibbon.

“It’s a very significant measure and the reality is we aren’t yet seeing any material savings as a consequence of the government order to temporarily suspend non urgent elective surgery. But we are confident we can accommodate postponing premium increases and it’s consistent with all the other initiatives we’re undertaking to support our members through this crisis,” said Mr Fitzgibbon.

Insurer HCF is also providing additional support measures to relieve pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are looking to do whatever we can to support our members doing it tough during this fast-changing and unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic” said HCF chief Sheena Jack.

“As a not for profit, we exist purely to support our members. They are, and will always be, our top priority.”

HCF said non-emergency surgery being put on hold and the expected reduction of ancillary cover claims over the next few months meant the insurer could defer the increase and provide additional measures such as Involuntarily Unemployment Assistance (HCF covers health insurance premiums for up to six months); premium waivers; policy suspension due to unemployment or hardship and cover for all members for COVID-19 claims – even if it wasn’t part of their previous policy.

HCF has also set up a dedicated Hardship team (13 13 34) on for members to call and discuss available options.

Dr David also urged fund members experiencing hardship to talk to their health fund before considering downgrading or dropping their health cover.

Health minister Greg Hunt has also announced that federal and state governments are “close to an agreement” with private hospitals on guaranteeing capacity in response to COVID-19 and the shutdown in elective surgery, after the hospitals had raised concerns.

Are you pleased that the premium has been deferred? Do you know of the hardship measures your health fund is putting in place?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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