COVID-19’s impact on health cover


Exclusive: Health fund cover is rapidly losing value as heath funds are forced to restrict their eye care and dental services because of COVID-19 and non-urgent elective surgery is dumped.

Yet health fund chiefs are refusing to trim their pay, as airline and media chiefs have done, during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It comes after News Corp yesterday reported the biggest funds would not delay next week's hefty premium rise.

Instead, funds are offering premium discounts of up to 10 per cent to people who lose their job because of COVID-19 and will pay for some physiotherapy and psychology appointments to be delivered via telehealth.

Health fund nib said existing members who are experiencing financial hardship can access special premium relief and suspend their health insurance policy and premium payment for up to six months while remaining covered for COVID-19 related treatment.

Defence Health announced yesterday it will delay April 1 premium increase by 3 months to 1 July in recognition of the financial stress the COVID-19 pandemic is having on members.

The Queensland Teachers' Union Health Fund Limited was due to hike premiums by 2.66 per cent on April 1 but will now "freeze" the hike for the foreseeable future.

HBF said earlier this week it would scrap its premium rise this year.

Physiotherapy consults may move to telehealth. Picture: istock
Physiotherapy consults may move to telehealth. Picture: istock

The changes come as the services health fund members can claim are being eroded with Bupa and HCF notifying members COVID-19 will have an impact their optometry and dental clinics.

Some funds have also closed their shopfronts, asking members to make claims online.

If people are unable to access these services, health funds will save hundreds of millions of dollars as they won't have to pay out rebates.

HCF has informed its members that while its dental and eyecare centres continue to operate "we expect that service delivery may become more restricted".

"We will continue to deliver dental clinical services to focus on providing urgent dental treatment to members and routine dental care may be provided where there is minimal risk," it said in a statement.

"We also want to emphasise that we are following the most recent Dental Board guidelines for dentist service delivery and all our dentists operate with personal protection when in surgery to ensure the safety and health of our team and members.," the fund said.

A Bupa spokesperson said its optical stores remain open "and the vast majority of our dental practices also remain open".

"However, given the rapid pace of change, we anticipate that a government mandated lockdown may be imminent and we are preparing for this," the fund said.

Many health fund executives earn around $4 million a year and News Corp asked the biggest funds whether they would be taking a pay cut as a result of the COVID-19 changes and the impact it would have on their members.

A spokesman for Bupa said the "Bupa performance is determined at the end of each calendar year. In respect of the 2019 year just ended, no Bupa executive or senior manager in Australia or New Zealand received a bonus in March 2020.

"Assessment of bonus eligibility for this year will be determined in 2021, the spokesman said.

A Medibank spokesperson said: "As we discussed in February, incentives will be lower this year. The exact amount will be determined by our Board and announced at our full year results."

Using your health cover for eye care and dental could be more difficult. Picture: Supplied
Using your health cover for eye care and dental could be more difficult. Picture: Supplied

"However, as we announced yesterday, we are committed that our customers will benefit from unforeseen financial gains in light of the Australian Government's cancellation of non-urgent elective surgery in private hospitals."

NIB said it was not yet contemplating executive pay cuts as the "focus at the moment for NIB is to help our members maintain their cover and more broadly, stay safe and healthy".

HCF's CEO Sheena Jack said "at this time no HCF employee is being stood down or made redundant despite branch closures."

"Our goal is to protect all of our members and employees as best we can through this. We are busier than ever doing just that. Nothing is off the table for executives but right now we are urgently focused on helping members and staff, not ourselves …"

Consumer's Health Forum chief Leanne Wells said funds should scrap next week's premium rise.

"Elective surgery accounts for a large proportion of the funds' costs so the savings during the pandemic will be substantial. Surely it would be of more direct help to all fund members to have their premiums reduced," she said.

Originally published as COVID-19's impact on health cover

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