Should health insurance be subsidised by taxpayers, given it takes pressure off stretched public services?
Grey Power thinks so, and recently put the issue on the agenda for a meeting with the Health Minister, documents released to the Herald on Sunday show.
"One of the benefits of Grey Power membership is a range of discounted insurances, including discounted medical insurance. Grey Power would like to discuss tax relief for those who pay for private medical insurance," a Ministry of Health briefing for a March 10 meeting between then Health Minister David Clark and Grey Power advocates stated.
The ministry noted its analysis - supported by Inland Revenue and Treasury - had found the cost of such a subsidy would likely outweigh any benefits such as health costs saved. This was because the healthiest old people are the most likely to have health insurance, and there would be extra regulatory costs.
Another problem is "a risk of a two-tier system developing where those who can afford insurance get better access to care".
About 35 per cent of New Zealanders have private health insurance. This compares to about 55 per cent in Australia, where most people with insurance get an income-tested rebate.
Grey Power national president Mac Welch said the public system would collapse without private medical insurance.
Many people with coverage made big sacrifices to pay for it, in the knowledge they otherwise could spend years in pain waiting in the public system for procedures like hip and knee replacements.
"We think it should be a subsidy. An example would be $2000 a year, straight rebate or payment, towards your medical insurance.
"The ridiculous sums we are paying here aren't seen in Australia ... the [NZ] Government has got to take some sort of control of it.
"I'm continually finding people who have paid for insurance their entire lives, when they retire they go on to a reduced income, and suddenly they can't afford it - the reduced premiums go through the roof, at a time when their income drops away. So they have to give it up, at the time when they really need it."
However, Health Minister Chris Hipkins confirmed the Government had no plans to offer any rebate.
"The Labour-led Government's focus is on ensuring we have a quality public health system that provides comprehensive quality care for all those who need it.
"A tax rebate for private health insurance would be likely to cost the Government quite a lot, and we would rather invest in improving healthcare for everyone, not just those who can afford to pay for health insurance."
National health spokesman Dr Shane Reti said the party looked into using tax relief to incentivise people to take out health insurance when last in government, and more recently in opposition.
"The fiscal implications continue to be a challenge, however I am looking to meet with the Grey Power advocacy team in Wellington next week and will listen to the information they wish to present."
NZ First health spokeswoman Jenny Marcroft said the party supported a subsidy, and she had recently lodged a members bill that would provide SuperGold cardholders with an annual $500 rebate.
"We had discussions with Labour, and they were not interested at all.
"The fact is that you hit 65, you've had medical insurance for a period of time, then, suddenly, the premiums shoot up because you are an older person, and you don't have the income."
Act leader David Seymour said his party didn't think such rebates were a good idea, given the need for a "simple and fair tax system".
"Once you exempt health insurance, the gyms will hire lobbyists to say, 'Prevention is better than cure, where's our exemption?' Then what about health foods and supplements? Once you start giving exemptions, the only winners are tax accountants.
"The real problem is making the healthcare system we're already paying for more competitive and efficient. That's where Act's healthcare policy focuses."
The Green Party is also opposed. Health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said it "supports properly funding our health system, so all people can get the care they need".