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CHOICE to health insurers: “Hardship shouldn’t be this hard”

Private health falls behind other industries when providing help to customers.

An investigation by consumer group CHOICE has found the hardship programs of Australia's private health insurers is inconsistent, opaque and hard to follow.

"Hardship" is the process of approaching service providers for assistance when you're facing financial difficulty - more important than ever during the COVID-19 economic crisis. While consumer advocates have worked closely with the energy and telco sectors on their hardship policies over decades, CHOICE says private health funds are leaving Australians in the dark.

Read the full story at www.choice.com.au/privatehealthhardship (We'd love a linkback if possible)

CHOICE contacted five major health funds (HCF, HBF, Medibank, NIB and Bupa) to ask them about their hardship policies. 

"Hardship shouldn't be this hard," says Dean Price, CHOICE Health Campaigner.

"Hardship policies should be open, transparent and easy to find. People who have lost their job or lost income during COVID-19 are going to be contacting a large number of organisations trying to sort out their finances and the lack of transparency makes it more difficult. People deserve to know what support they're able to access without getting the runaround."

In their responses to CHOICE, all five insurers wrote that people adversely affected by COVID-19 can apply for premium relief. But only HCF's website provides transparent details, specifying that the fund will pay customers' premiums for up to six months. Rival HBF mentions premium relief on its website, but is unclear about what exactly this entails. Medibank and NIB only mention suspension of cover on their websites, and Bupa merely refers to "relief/financial assistance." To get more specific information, we had to engage in many back-and-forth emails.

"There are important lessons for the private health sector to learn from their peers in energy, telecommunications and banking. Transparency about what help is on offer is essential - this means all customers can access help, not just people with the skills to easily argue their case," says Price.

"There's no excuse to have inconsistent, opaque and hard to follow hardship policies in 2020. This was unacceptable pre-COVID and it's even worse now. The health funds must publish their hardship policies in detail and do it now. Don't leave Australians in the dark when they need your help."

Following CHOICE's COVID-19 Banking Scorecard CHOICE has asked the major health funds to detail their support for customers during the COVID-19 crisis, with the results set to be published soon. 

"With their lobby groups and PR teams, industries like banking and health insurance are hoping they can get away with the bare minimum during COVID-19. CHOICE is here to hold them to account," says Price.

Media contact: Katelyn Cameron, media@choice.com.au, 0430 172 669