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Health insurance tops household worries for first time: CHOICE

"Frankly dishonest" - CHOICE.com.au experts warn about the quality of health insurance advice with market changes ahead

A national survey from consumer advocate CHOICE shows that 82% of Australian households are concerned by health insurance costs. The community concern comes as CHOICE insurance experts warn most Australians should hold and wait for better advice after April 1.

This is the first time health insurance has topped the list of CHOICE's quarterly household survey since 2014, overtaking electricity (77%) as the main household cost concern.

The health insurance industry is set to undergo the biggest change it has seen in decades as a new Gold, Silver, Bronze system is introduced from April 1

CHOICE's insurance experts are warning Australians not to rush into policy changes after the consumer advocate received over 1700 health fund letters from concerned Australians.

"We asked our CHOICE Community to pitch in and help us understand these changes. What we found was a health insurance system in a state of mess," says CHOICE.com.au spokesperson Jonathan Brown.

"It's frankly dishonest for anyone to say they can provide a true comparison of the health insurance market right now. New policies will be released over the coming weeks and months that will change in coverage and price. 

"Until we have all the facts about the quality of cover in the market, no one can tell you what the best value for money policy will be for your needs."

CHOICE.com.au experts warn that:

  • If you're expecting a particular health need (such as pregnancy or a hip replacement) check your policy before April 1. If you've lost cover under the new changes, you need to switch to higher cover before the changes hit – you could be stuck with a new waiting period.
  • If you're currently undergoing treatment, have surgery booked or are pregnant, check with your fund if you are affected by the cover changes.
  • If you're not expecting a particular health need, the range of policy options will significantly change from April 1. What looks like a good deal now may be bad value after April 1.
  • The average premium increase is 3.25%, but CHOICE has seen a number of letters that show higher costs, with fewer benefits.
  • If you have the capacity to do so, pre-pay the best deal you can get now for the coming year. If a better policy comes after April 1, you can get a refund on your pre-paid premiums.

CHOICE.com.au's insurance experts are working their way through the changes with the help of CHOICE campaign supporters and their 1700 health fund letters. 

The consumer advocate also decided to pause its non-profit health insurance comparison tool as it cannot recommend products given the current state of the market.

"From the 1700 letters we received, we've found that the system that was meant to simplify health insurance is causing widespread confusion and stress," says Brown.

"These changes are big, and no one really knows the true impact on the overall market until after April 1. That's why we're shocked to see commercial comparison sites still pushing their services.

"Watch out for the commercial comparison sites – they're pushing sales calls onto a stressed and confused community and right now they're providing recommendations about a market that's changing rapidly. What's a good deal today, may be a terrible deal in a few weeks as cover and costs change.

"With the help of CHOICE's supporters, our experts will be digging into the detail and sharing what we find. 

"Our advice is that people in most circumstances should wait until after April 1 before making any big changes to their health insurance. 

"Check our website for more information on what to look out for."

For Australians currently receiving letters from their health fund, CHOICE.com.au has published a guide for understanding your letter and will continue to offer free expert advice at choice.com.au/health.

Media contact: Jonathan Brown, media@choice.com.au 0430 172 669

CHOICE's online forum CHOICE Community has set up dedicated threads for Australians to discuss changes to their policies. CHOICE encourages Australians to share what they've discovered in their policies.

CHOICE Consumer Pulse was conducted in January 2019, is based on a survey of 1,095, nationally representative of Australian households.