Big health insurers disappoint during pandemic

CHOICE has accused private health funds of neglecting customers while pocketing $1 billion during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Analysis by Consumer group CHOICE has found Australia’s two biggest health insurers, Medibank Private and Bupa came last in helping Australians through the COVID-19 emergency.

CHOICE argues that the funds which have the most capacity to help their customers have been shown up by non-profit and smaller funds who have less capacity but have chosen to put the community first.

CHOICE Health Campaigner Dean Price says "With people struggling during this economic and health crisis, they 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."

Five key actions for COVID-19 relief

CHOICE outlined five ways health funds could support their customers during COVID-19:

  • Not increase premiums on 1 October
  • Give any windfall gains back to customers
  • Let people use any unused extras next year
  • Have hardship policies in place for people who have lost their job
  • Publish their hardship policies online

Here's how the funds currently score (taken from the CHOICE website):

Profiting from COVID-19 as price rises loom

CHOICE have pointed to a recent Daily Telegraph article which claims private health funds pocketed $1 billion during the COVID-19 lockdown when health services were cancelled or restricted. 

Accordingly, Price says there's no excuse for any fund to continue with planned price rises on 1 October.

"With Victoria in lockdown again and unemployment still rising, it's just outright greed for any private insurer to charge Australians more on 1 October," he says.

"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."

One of the key areas for improvement is transparency.

Funds should be publishing their hardship policies so people can find out what they're entitled to and how to get help. It's a fair request that Medibank Private and Bupa still haven't fulfilled, CHOICE claims.

"Instead of telling customers what help they're eligible for, they've sent out media releases and continued to make people jump through hoops," Price says.

"While their marketing departments have been quick to tell the community how they're helping, our research has found a lot left to be desired in their COVID-19 responses."

Do the right thing

According to CHOICE Health Campaigner Dean Price, "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."

One private insurer, HBF is leading the way and is the only fund so far to cancel 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,” Price said.

“This is in stark contrast to the other funds who are increasing their premiums on 1 October."

Read more here.

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