The cost of insurance is rising faster than Kiwi pay packets and industry experts say there are risks it could rise further.

Figures from Statistics New Zealand show the cost of insurance has risen by 48 per cent in the last 10 years - far surpassing the 31 per cent rise in wages and the 19 per cent increase in inflation.

It has been house and health insurance that has skyrocketed the most over that time.

Since 2007 the cost of dwelling insurance has risen by 259 per cent with a 154 per cent rise in the wake of the Canterbury Earthquakes in February 2011.

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Linked to that is contents insurance which has risen 53 per cent since 2007. Health insurance has risen by 99 per cent.

Tim Grafton, chief executive of the Insurance Council, said while the Canterbury earthquakes had been a big driver of the cost rise, there had also been increases in government taxes and levies over that time including a GST rise, the EQC levy and the fire service levy.

"First of all there has been the Canterbury Earthquakes - we have seen something like $20.5 billion paid thus far and it is probably going to be another $1 billion, and that is just for domestic housing.

"On the commercial side it is almost just as much."

On top of that was the November 2016 Kaikoura quakes.

"In the space of six years 2010 to 2016 this country has had significant losses to earthquakes."

Grafton said the Canterbury earthquakes had resulted in a recalibration of risk and how reinsurers charged to cover that risk.

That meant prior to the quakes consumers were probably paying a lot less for their insurance than they should have been, particularly given policies were open-ended allowing people to claim an unlimited amount for damage, he said.

The model has since been scrapped with insurers moving to a "sum insured" model where they will only pay out to a specified amount.

The Reserve Bank has also increased the solvency margin for insurers in the wake of the failure of AMI in 2011, which was subsequently bought up by IAG.

Now instead of having enough access to capital to cover a once in 200 year event they have to have enough to cover a once in 1000 year event.

Insurers have had to raise capital and buy more reinsurance to cover it, "which comes at a cost as well," Grafton said.

Predicting if the rises in insurances costs will continue is a difficult one and depends heavily on whether there are a raft of big global disasters or another big local one which could push up the cost of reinsurance.

"One thing we need to bear in mind - the cost of insurance in New Zealand is also a function of what happens globally."

New Zealand's insurance cover is based on what reinsurers charge and what happens globally affects insurance here.

Grafton said there was also uncertainty facing the sector with rising bond rates in the United States.

In recent years the insurance sector has benefited from hedge funds and pension funds pouring money into insurance contract investments as investors have sought a better return on their money.

But that could all change if bond rates rise.

"If they were to rise would we start to see money flow back?"

Riskier countries also face paying more and New Zealand is now on the riskier list.

"We are a very small economy producing very small premiums but have produced a significant loss.

"If we have another big event - if Wellington was hit - the elevated risk would be quite sharp. We really don't want a big event happening."

Counter-balancing that, technology improvements have allowed more people to apply for insurance and make claims online which helped to keep costs down.

Health insurance has also seen a sharp rise over the past 10 years.

Roger Styles, chief executive of the Health Funds Association of New Zealand, said the past decade had seen a doubling of both claims and premiums with around $1.2 billion paid out last year compared with $600 million in 2007.

"There are several reasons for this, although essentially insurers are funding access to both a greater number and a wider range of treatments than they were a decade ago."

Styles said medical inflation - the cost of hospital stays and surgical procedures - had risen much faster than the consumer price index and New Zealand was not alone in that happening.

"It is a global trend."

That accounted for about one third of the cost rise while new procedures was another third and another third was more people accessing elective surgery because of difficulties accessing the public system quickly.

Styles said most of the health insurers in New Zealand were not-for-profit which meant the premiums went straight out into payouts.

Medical inflation was expected to continued rise as it has done historically, Styles said.

But there could some better news on elective surgery with the new government expected to pour more in healthcare.

Styles said insurers were also looking to keep costs down by having affiliated contracts with healthcare providers and doing more to encourage policyholders to be healthy.


How to keep insurance costs down
• shop around for your insurance
• see if you can get a package deal
• increase the excess (the amount you pay before the insurance kicks in) to a higher amount if you can afford to cover it yourself
• reduce the cover - for health insurance this could be swapping full cover for surgical only cover.