Three health funds won’t axe price hikes before next week

Exclusive: Greedy health funds have been accused of exploiting the coronavirus crisis, by refusing to cancel hefty premium hikes, despite bans on non urgent elective surgery which will save them billions.

The three biggest funds have told News Corp they will not put a stop to the price rises - which can run into the hundreds of dollars - slated to kick in next Wednesday.

Perth based HBF was yesterday the only fund to wave the impending jump in fees, acknowledging many of its members had been impacted financially by COVID-19.

 

 

The only relief funds are offering for members who have suffered job losses is a temporary freeze on premium increases.

Consumer groups are demanding all health funds curtail their planned April 1 premium rises of nearly three per cent.

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.

 

 

In the last three months of 2019, health funds paid out over $4 billion in rebates for elective surgery and other hospital care.

Perth-based fund HBF has 1 million members nationally and was due to implement average price increases of 1.98 per cent to its members' policies - the lowest rise of any funds in the country this year.

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

Health fund premiums are due to rise by 2.92 per cent on average next Wednesday, the lowest price hike since 2001, but still nearly triple the rate of inflation.

Medibank and ahm announced yesterday they will allow their members to suspend their policies or access relief on premiums if they lose their jobs as part of a of COVID-19 financial relief package.

The funds have also promised to pay benefits towards chest, heart, lung and kidney hospital admissions related to the coronavirus regardless of the level of cover their members have, this includes customers with Basic and Bronze levels of cover.

The fund says if it saves money as a result of the ban on non-urgent surgery it will find a way of returning that to members in the future but will not cancel next week's premium rise.

 

Bupa won’t cancel premium rise Picture: Supplied
Bupa won’t cancel premium rise Picture: Supplied

 

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," the fund 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."

Medibank customers will be able to suspend their policies. Picture: David Clark
Medibank customers will be able to suspend their policies. Picture: David Clark

And the fund said all customers with a hospital policy would be covered for COVID-19 related claims, irrespective of the terms of that policy.

HCF on Thursday closed all its branches and kiosks until further notice and said members must email the fund at hcf.com.au/contact-us or call on 13 13 34 and download our My Membership mobile app in order to make a claim.

The fund will not cancel the April 1 premium increase but will offer help to those under financial pressure.

"Reversing the rate increase will not help those people who are experiencing serious financial hardship," the funds CEO Sheena Jack said.

 

 

"We at HCF understand the major challenges people are experiencing and believe it is more helpful that we provide significant financial relief through targeted measures, for those members who will need it most," she said.

The fund has decided that all hospital policies will cover any COVID-19 related hospital admissions.

NIB said it was "examining a range of measures designed to support members in maintaining their health insurance coverage and dealing with the risk of COVID-19 especially those in facing financial difficulty. We are also looking at various initiatives to assist in containing and managing COVID-19 across the entire community."

Originally published as Three health funds won't axe price hikes before next week



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