Cover for cancer screening and GP visits attracts customers

Health insurers are targeting preventive policies in a shift away from the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. And they hope the new cover for everyday expenses will entice consumers back.

Southern Cross, the country's largest insurer, posted a loss of $1.1 million in the recent financial year, which it said was due to higher claim costs than it had expected.

Meanwhile, 60,000 fewer New Zealanders have health insurance now than in December 2008. Southern Cross and new entrant nib are offering "everyday" policies, some of which cover GP visits, physiotherapy appointments, glasses and acupuncture.

Customers are adding those policies to their specialist and hospital cover or are opting for comprehensive policies that allow visits to a nutritionist, naturopath, podiatrist and acupuncturist.

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Sovereign, meanwhile, has introduced a new policy, Private Health Plus, which includes cover for screening for cancers, such as mammography and prostate checks, dermatologist skin checks for melanoma and screening for fertility problems.

Former All Blacks' doctor and now Sovereign clinical director John Mayhew said there had been a shift in mindsets toward using insurance before people got sick.

He said affordability was a big issue for all health insurers. As new technologies were developed, the frequency and cost of treatment increased.

"All companies' health costs are going up at a faster rate than premiums. Everyone is looking to develop unique products. We believe that if people want screening outside the normal screening programme, they should be able to get a policy that pays for that.

"It's proactive rather than reactive. It gives people options.

"We've still got a good public health system. If you have a heart attack, you'll get very good treatment. The problem is things like an elective knee joint replacement. You could be on a waiting list."

Latest statistics from the Health Funds Association of New Zealand show the drop in the number of people with insurance has slowed.

Year-on-year, numbers are down just 0.4 per cent and the number insured was stable through December and March.

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HFA chief executive Roger Styles said there had been a slight increase in the number of policies issued to those in their 20s and 30s.

Nib said its EveryDay health cover now represents more than half of its sales.

Commentator Russell Hutchinson, of Chatswood Consulting, said the health insurance industry would evolve to meet people's changing needs.

Southern Cross Health Society chief executive Peter Tynan said it was likely that over the next 20 years the public health system would not be able to afford to cater for society's growing needs and insurance would have to play a bigger part.

"It's not if but when."

How the policies stack up

Single, 31-year-old woman, non-smoker.

doctor with female patient
doctor with female patient

Southern Cross Wellbeing Two: $32.47 a week

Covers (no excess): Surgical treatment, imaging and diagnostic procedures, specialist consultations, cancer care, doctor visits, prescriptions, annual health check, flu vaccination, physiotherapy, vision and dental care, preventive and natural healthcare including nutritionist, podiatry, acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropracty, naturopathy.

Southern Cross Health Essentials: $7 a week

Covers: 75 per cent of GP, dental, optometrist, physiotherapist, nutritionist, acupuncturist and osteopathy costs.

Nib Private Hospital Cover Plus: $14.10 a week

Covers (no excess): Surgery, specialist, diagnostics, ACC top-up, pre-existing conditions cover, cancer treatment and follow up including non-Pharmac treatments, family planning benefits.

Nib Basic Every Day package: $4.95 a week

Covers: 60 per cent of the cost of glasses, contact lenses, dental care, physiotherapy and GP consultations up to $950 a year.

Sovereign Private Health Plus: $16.63 a week

Covers (no excess): Private surgical treatment, hospitalisation, scans. After three years, $750 a year for pregnancy, maternity or fertility treatments, and $500 for health screening after three years and every three years subsequently.