Australia’s most popular health insurers have been accused of lacking transparency when it comes to their COVID-19 support measures.
Medibank Private and Bupa have come last in an analysis of private health COVID-19 responses conducted by consumer group CHOICE.
“Medibank Private and Bupa have failed Australians during COVID-19,” says CHOICE health campaigner Dean Price.
“The two biggest funds have performed the worst when it comes to helping Australians during COVID-19.
“The biggest funds should have the most capacity to help their customers, but instead they’re being shown up by not-for-profit and smaller funds who have less capacity but have chosen to put the community first.
“With people struggling during this economic and health crisis, people are keen to do what is best for their health and their finances, but Medibank Private and Bupa need to do a lot more to help Australians through this,” says Mr Price.
CHOICE accused the big health funds of choosing PR stunts instead of offering real help to consumers and said there was no reason for premiums to increase on 1 October.
“With Victoria in lockdown again and unemployment still rising, it’s just outright greed for Medibank Private and Bupa to charge Australians more,” Mr Price said.
“These companies are saving massive amounts of money while people are unable to use many health services – companies increasing prices is simply taking advantage of the situation.
“CHOICE presented the five major health funds with five areas of COVID-19 support they could improve, with the simplest being transparency – publishing their hardship policies so people can find out what they’re entitled to and how to get help.
“Instead of telling customers what help they’re eligible for, Medibank Private and Bupa sent out media releases and continued to make people jump through hoops,” Mr Price said.
“While their marketing departments have been quick to tell the community how they’re helping out, our research has found a lot left to be desired in their COVID-19 responses.”
Of the five major health funds measured on their COVID-19 response, HBF came out on top of the list as the only fund that has announced it has cancelled this year’s premium increase.
“In an example of industry leadership, HBF deserves to be recognised for its decision not to increase premiums in the middle of this pandemic,” Mr Price said. “This is in stark contrast to the other funds who are increasing their premiums on 1 October.
“Other sectors, like banking and utilities, have recognised that the impact of this pandemic is going to be felt for a long time to come and extended their response beyond 1 October.
“The private health insurance industry needs to keep up with these industries who have acted more fairly.”
As well as calling for premiums not be increased this year, CHOICE is calling on health funds to give any windfall gains back to customers, let people use their unused extras next year and publish their hardship policies online.
Private Healthcare Australia chief executive Dr Rachel David attacked the CHOICE research as “inaccurate and irresponsible”.
“In recent years, CHOICE has changed its approach to research and campaigned vigorously against private health in Australia,” Dr David explained.
“Its latest missive criticising health funds on their response to the pandemic is inaccurate and irresponsible.
“Health funds were among the first organisations to respond to the crisis by supporting their members financially and with access to healthcare in the first week of national lockdown.
“CHOICE has made no reference to how many people have been assisted or by how much. This is in spite of the fact over 100 000 people have claimed hardship assistance and members can continue to do so.”
Dr David said that health funds have said they will not profit from COVID-19 restrictions.
“Health funds made some savings over the six-week period in which elective surgeries were cancelled and some allied health providers were closed,” Dr David admitted. “Over half a billion dollars of these savings have already been returned to members.
“Health funds are now using the remaining savings to fund the backlog of elective surgery. The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has made it clear that health funds must retain enough capital to fund this backlog of elective surgeries and the additional healthcare needs of private patients.”
According to Private Healthcare Australia, more than $500 million in savings has been returned to members through postponing the 1 April premium increase, financial hardship provisions and funding of telehealth services for psychology and physiotherapy.
“Some funds have also provided members with cash backs, rollover of services to the next calendar year and cancelled the 1 October premium increase,” Dr David explained. “If the independent regulator’s claims data, due to be released in a few months’ time, shows more savings need to be returned to members, health funds will do so.
“Premiums rise because funds are paying for more healthcare. The COVID-19 situation has not stopped health inflation rising at levels far above general inflation.
“Health funds don’t want to increase premiums by a single dollar, but it is necessary to ensure health funds remain financially viable, meet statutory prudential requirements and, most importantly, continue to be in a position to provide members with access to quality and timely healthcare.”
Do you think private health funds should be doing more to help members during the COVID-19 crisis? What has your fund done to help you during this time?
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