Anne Gibson

Property editor of the NZ Herald

Southern Cross's top bill - $160,000 spine operation

A spinal operation costing $160,000 topped the list of most expensive bills paid by Southern Cross, New Zealand's biggest health insurer. File photo / Dean Purcell
A spinal operation costing $160,000 topped the list of most expensive bills paid by Southern Cross, New Zealand's biggest health insurer. File photo / Dean Purcell

A $160,000 spinal operation topped all bills paid by New Zealand's biggest medical insurer.

Peter Tynan, Southern Cross Health Society chief executive, revealed this was the highest payout, along with a range of procedures including those for cancer and heart disease.

Having a larynx removed would have cost the patient $100,000 but the society forked out for that along with a $98,000 heart valve replacement, a $95,000 cardiac bypass and $93,000 oesophagus removal.

The insurer has about 800,000 members, the lion's share of the 1.4 million kiwis with health insurance.

In the December 2012 half year, the society paid out 88 cents in claims for every premium dollar received, Tynan said.

Those receiving the top 10 highest claim payments were aged 64 to 76 years, underlining the heightened demand for health services people have as they age and the increasing complexity of the procedures they require, Tynan said.

"When you're young and healthy it's easy to think 'I'll deal with it later'. But by the time certain medical conditions develop it is too late to get health insurance to cover them, much like trying to get car insurance after an accident," he said.

Those aged under 30 put in a high number of claims for tonsillectomies and dental procedures, he said.

For women aged 20-39, endometriosis surgery is common and after the age of 50, hip and knee replacements, cataract extraction and skin lesion removals are in high demand, he said.

"By committing to health insurance early, people can improve their access to elective services should they require them. When you're living with chronic pain having to wait even a month can seem a life sentence.

"These figures also highlight the cost of medical procedures - how expensive elective surgery can be. Those wanting to go private need to think about how they'll fund it.

"If they choose to self-insure, people should have realistic expectations of what they'll need, says Tynan.

A survey carried out by Southern Cross last year revealed that 79 per cent of New Zealanders think they will have to pay for some of their elective healthcare in retirement.

However only one in five had started saving and many thought that savings of less than $10,000 would be sufficient.

A knee replacement costs between $19,000 and $24,000, cardiac bypass surgery between $43,000 and $50,000 and one course of radiation therapy between $15,000 and $27,000, Tynan said.

MOST COSTLY PROCEDURES

Spinal surgery - $160,000

Spinal surgery - $151,000

Larynx removal - $100,000

Heart valve replacement - $98,000

Cardiac bypass - $95,000

Major oesophagus surgery - $93,000

Spinal surgery - $93,000

Extensive facial surgery and reconstruction - $91,000

[Source: Southern Cross Healthcare Society]

- NZ Herald

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