Health funds should defer premium rise

Schemes announced by the big health funds to support their members during the COVID-19 crisis are welcome but lower premiums would likely be of more assistance, the Consumers Health Forum said today.

BUPA and Medibank Private have announced a range of programs, including expanded benefits for some treatments, help for members in financial hardship and support for chronically ill members at home.

One fund, HBF, has said it cancel premium rises scheduled to begin next week.

“We know that the health funds’ expenditure will be significantly reduced because of the suspension of non-urgent elective surgery,” the CEO of the Consumers Health Forum, Leanne Wells, said.

“Elective surgery accounts for a large proportion of the funds’ costs so the savings during the pandemic will be substantial. Surely it would be of more direct help to all fund members to have their premiums reduced.

“Many people will lose most if not all of their income, and even those lucky enough to retain their jobs will be making careful household decisions about what they spend.

“Over and above COVID-19 support packages announced by some, lower premiums would help. CHF urges all funds to consider deferring their 2020 premium rises. While there will be those who benefit from the funds’ support packages it has to be asked how the funds can justify retaining higher premiums when a large part of the operations they would normally cover will not be available.

“Another important aspect is the question of equity of access for non-insured patients affected by COVID-19. While welcome measures in themselves, Australians would not want to see access to COVID-affected treatments skewed in a way that would give preference for services to one group over another,” Ms Wells said.

The Medibank package includes benefits towards COVID-19-related chest, heart, lung and kidney hospital admissions, regardless of the existing customer’s level of hospital cover; as well as a specific financial hardship policy allowing customers to suspend their policy or access some relief on their premium payments.

Other measures implemented by Medibank and ahm to support customers during the COVID period will include additional clinical support systems for customers with coronavirus who are in self isolation at home and customers with chronic and complex health conditions and continued access 24/7 to Medibank Nurse and Mental Health Phone support lines. Medibank will also launch “Live Better at Home” plan and will donate $5 million to beyondblue.

BUPA’s plan includes access to some financial assistance for members in financial hardship as a result of COVID-19.

Other BUPA measures cover for psychology, counselling, speech pathology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and dietetic services delivered through telephone or video consultations.

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