After 10 years of enduring health insurance premium price hikes, the Hannah family of Elermore Vale in Newcastle is on the verge of dumping their policy.
Alisha and Patrick Hannah, who have had three daughters in that time, are struggling to live within their budget, despite downgrading to a “basic” level of hospital cover and cancelling their extras cover.
The upcoming, government-approved premium hike of 4.9 per cent makes them feel “nervous and sick”.
“The cost keeps going up and we can’t afford it because our budget can only stretch by so much and we’re not seeing the value,” says Ms Hannah, who works part-time in administration.
“We’ve cut spending in other areas, like on ourselves and holidays, to accommodate it, but we’re questioning whether we should put the money towards paying off our mortgage.”
Amid price increases, questions about value, and confusion over coverage, fewer ns have been joining health funds.
The industry’s growth rate has dropped from 3.7 per cent (209,094 new members) in 2011-12 to 1.35 per cent (86,939 new members) in 2015-16, according to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman.
This has coincided with a rise in the number of complaints.
And the percentage of ns with hospital cover has started to decline – from a peak of 47.4 per cent in September 2015 to 46.8 per cent a year later, according to data from the n Prudential Regulation Authority.
It’s currently the busiest time of the year for health insurers as customers reassess their policies ahead of the average 4.84 per cent premium price hike on April 1.
Just over 20 per cent of health fund members say they’re planning to pay their premium before April 1 to avoid the hike, according to a new survey by comparison website Finder.
It found 15 per cent plan to pay 12 months upfront, while 5.4 per cent plan to pay six months in advance in order to avoid paying hundreds of dollars more each year.
A Galaxy survey commissioned by comparison website iSelect found that 50 per cent of policyholders planned to compare or switch health funds to make sure they’re getting the best deal, while 24 per cent planned to downgrade or cancel their policy.
iSelect says that on April 1, the yearly premium of an average family policy will jump by nearly $200 to $4277. It predicts younger ns will pay $100 more each year and older couples will fork out $185 more.
The industry’s peak body, Private Healthcare , said premium increases were necessary to ensure health funds stayed ahead of rising health costs.
Ms Hannah says her biggest problem was that wages weren’t keeping pace with premium rises, placing pressure on families to stretch their budgets.
The average weekly wage has grown by 1.6 per cent in the past year, according to the n Bureau of Statistics, while the average premium rise for the past eight years is 5.6 per cent.
“We’re pretty disillusioned about it, to the point we think it’s not worth it for our family,” says Ms Hannah. “The security and peace of mind do tempt me to keep it, but it’s about whether we can afford it.”
Certified financial planner Adele Martin, who provided advice to the Hannah family, said in the past six months there has been a sharp increase in clients asking whether they were getting value for money with their private health insurance.
“Something they have to take into account is the Medicare Levy Surcharge and the Lifetime Health Cover loading, because they don’t want to suffer those financial penalties,” she said.
Ongoing affordability concerns are also prompting older customers, who usually stay loyal to the big, for-profit funds, to review their policies and consider switching providers.
iSelect says its data shows that since January 1 this year, when the pension changes came into effect, there has been a 45 per cent increase in the proportion of customers aged over 65 purchasing private health insurance, compared with the same time last year.
“They are becoming more price sensitive and now 60+ is our fastest growing customer segment,” says its spokeswoman Laura Crowden.
“We believe the recent pension asset changes may have even further accelerated this trend. On January 1, 2017, more than 300,000 part-pensioners either lost their pension altogether or had it reduced.”
Consumer advocacy group Choice has urged consumers to use the final week before the price hike hits to assess their insurance needs, compare policies and take advantage of the savings.
Choice has a new online tool, DoINeedHealthInsurance苏州夜总会招聘.au, to help customers decide if they need private hospital cover.
“Whether taking out cover or reconsidering an existing policy, we want all consumers to take advantage of the tips, tools and services available to help navigate this complex market,” said its spokesman, Tom Godfrey. Choice’s savings tipsIf you can afford to, pay your annual premium as a lump sum in March to avoid the April 1 price rise.Check to see if you can join a restricted membership health fund through you or your family’s employment.Look for funds that offer discounts for paying annually or by direct debit.
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