Need to know
- CHOICE assessed COVID-19 relief offered by the five major health funds – Medibank Private, Bupa, NIB, HBF and HCF
- Medibank Private and Bupa performed the worst against five key criteria
- Nonprofit fund HBF rated the best out of the five major funds
"The two biggest funds have performed the worst when it comes to helping Australians during COVID-19," says Dean Price, health campaigner at CHOICE.
He argues that the funds that have the most capacity to help their customers have been shown up by nonprofit and smaller funds who have less capacity, but have chosen to put the community first.
Private health funds pocketed $1 billion during the COVID-19 lockdown when health services were cancelled or restricted
"With people struggling during this economic and health crisis, they are keen to do what is best for their health and their finances," says Price. "But Medibank Private and Bupa need to do a lot more to help Australians through this."
5 key actions for COVID-19 relief
In light of increasing hardship suffered by thousands impacted by the pandemic, we've outlined five ways that 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:
Profiting from COVID-19 as price rises loom
Earlier this month, Sue Dunlevy of the Daily Telegraph reported that private health funds pocketed $1 billion during the COVID-19 lockdown when health services were cancelled or restricted. 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."
PR puffery versus real help
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.
"Instead of telling customers what help they're eligible for, they've sent out media releases and continued to make people jump through hoops," says Price. "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."
How did the other big three fare?
Of the big five, HBF are leading the way as 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. This is in stark contrast to the other funds who are increasing their premiums 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 OctoberDean Price, CHOICE Health Campaigner
"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."