Health insurance picks up

Last updated 07:44 12/02/2013

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The health insurance industry is predicting a recovery after years of bleeding customers and rising prices.

The number of people with health insurance dropped just 0.1 per cent in the December 2012 quarter, although it was down 0.8 per cent for the year.

According to industry body the Health Funds Association, the number of people covered by private health insurance fell by 3 per cent since 2009, as premiums soared and economic conditions squeezed household budgets.

But association chief executive Roger Styles is picking a possible resurgence.

Premium price hikes have slowed from their most eyewatering levels and the economy has taken baby steps towards recovery.

On the Government side, ACC policy changes and public sector cost pressures might make people feel less sure about their coverage by the public system, he said.

"We are starting to see a bit of uncertainty about accessing public services and . . . uncertainty about getting ACC coverage for elective surgery. As those public resourcing issues come to the fore, coupled with the economic recovery we will probably see a resurgence," said Styles.

A combination of more claims as the population ages and rising costs of medical treatment - including public demand for access to new technology - has led to policyholders having to swallow premium increases far above inflation.

Healthcare inflation has been a headache for insurers and Government forecasters alike as they seek to project future costs.

The association's latest figures show the cost of having health insurance is still rising considerably faster than inflation, with private health premiums growing 5.3 per cent in 2012.

Unlike the year till October, however, health insurance payouts kept pace with the percentage rise in premiums.

The association says health insurers paid $876 million in claims in the year till December 2012, up $44m on 2011. In return people paid premiums totalling $1.09 billion, up 5.2 per cent or $55 million from 2011.

By comparison the year ended October saw premium hikes outstripping the annual rise in payouts - rising 6.2 per cent to claims at 4.8 per cent - which the industry blamed on having to refill its coffers after spiralling claims costs.

Styles said the levelling of claims and premiums came down to actuaries more accurately predicting claims costs, after years of underestimating for reasons which he stressed were largely outside their control. Fairfax NZ

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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