New measures designed to combat a gap in access to health care.

Difficulties faced by many 'new' Kiwis in getting access to health care are being targeted by a corporate campaign aimed at helping overcoming them.

Private insurance cover for treatments like Chinese traditional medicine and acupuncture -historically a no-no in the industry - have been introduced by private health insurer nib at a time when research shows access to medical care for migrants is at levels well below those enjoyed by most Kiwis.

The range of new products is aimed at migrant groups – particularly Chinese and Indians – in an effort to "meet the changing face of New Zealand."

The moves come as a series of reports on migrant health care in New Zealand paint a grim picture.


A study published in 2016 by the Northern Regional Alliance and based on research by Robert Scragg, an associate professor in Epidemiology at the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland, found Asian people who have lived in New Zealand for fewer than five years are less likely to have access to health care.

"Access to health services is particularly low among Asian adults who have recently arrived in New Zealand and efforts are needed to redress this disparity," the report said.

Another report on the issue, published by the Health Promotion Forum of New Zealand, said these low rates of access to health care may be because of a number of factors including communication and language barriers, social isolation, distance from family and friends and changes in diet and socio-economic status.

The forum's 2015 study also highlighted the "collectivist nature" of Asian cultures and "the common desire for families as a unit to work through health issues and problems together, often before or as an alternative to seeking professional help."

A third study, the Counties Manukau Health's Asian Health Plan 2016-17, said persistent low levels of physical activity and intake of fruit and vegetables in south Asian and Chinese adults - alongside the growing prevalence of hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes - shows ill-health prevention and treatment approaches are not working equitably.

Rob Hennin
Rob Hennin

Rob Hennin, nib CEO, says the new health cover range has been designed to cater for the healthcare needs of the various ethnicities and family structures making up contemporary New Zealand.

He says new migrants want to be looked after with products relevant to them: "They look for treatments like Chinese medicine, acupuncture and massage because they regard taking responsibility for their health as important; as a result they are much more likely to consider private health insurance.

"We have up to 15 per cent of our new customers coming from the new migrant segment which is significant," he says. "Many are very highly educated and realise health insurance is not just for those who are sick but is as much about prevention or early detection."


Hennin says although he does not have figures for the number of migrants who have private health insurance, he believes ultimately the percentage will be higher than for the general population (currently around 28 per cent of all New Zealanders have health insurance).

Hennin says while the public health system offers a good service, it doesn't always give people what they want when they want it (110,000 are on waiting lists while another 170,000 needing elective surgery have not even made it to a waiting list) while the ACC, which covers people injured in accidents, does not cover illnesses or conditions related to ageing and emotional issues.

"Migrants have a real sense of community and a desire to look after each other," he says. "We understand every customer is different which is why we've created health cover that satisfies a very diverse range of needs, benefits and budgets."

The number of people living here but born overseas is, at 1 million, around a quarter of New Zealand's total population of 4.7 million. Half of these people live in Auckland with Asia being the most common birthplace.

Hennin says nib has also developed products specific to young families (including cover for obstetrics, orthodontics, speech therapy and vaccinations) and millennials (mental health consultations, gym membership, remedial massage and treatments by physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths).

"Having insurance means people can go to their GP for regular check-ups, which we encourage people to do," he says. "I believe if you can afford it you should do it and take responsibility for your own health needs."

In other initiatives nib is partnering with Auckland iwi Ngati Whatua Orakei who are providing free private health insurance for all its registered members - and is working with another New Zealand insurance company OrbitProtect to enable international visitors to access health insurance.

The Ngati Whatua Orakei agreement gives all New Zealand-based registered members of the iwi base cover for surgical and medical (non-surgical) hospitalisation, a specialist option and an everyday option to help with some day-to-day costs like GP visits, dentistry and physiotherapy.

International visitors to New Zealand - including workers, students and tourists - will be offered health cover services through the partnership with OrbitProtect. Known as international inbound health insurance, the product is available through insurance advisors.