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Named and shamed: The private healthcare giants failing Australians during the coronavirus pandemic

Australia’s largest private health insurers have been named and shamed for their ‘failed’ responses to the coronaviurs crisis.

The consumer advocacy group CHOICE has accused the nation’s top two health funds of gouging its customers at a time when they are most in need of support.

Health giants Bupa and Medibank were the worst performers of the top five when it came to putting profits ahead of its customers.

‘The two biggest funds have performed the worst when it comes to helping Australians during COVID-19,’ CHOICE health campaigner Dean Price said.

‘With people struggling during this economic and health crisis, they are keen to do what is best for their health and their finances.

‘But Medibank Private and Bupa need to do a lot more to help Australians through this.’

Private health insurers raked in over $1billion in profits during the coronavirus lockdown, which is still continuing in Victoria, the Daily Telegraph reported.

When elective surgeries and ‘extras’ such dental and optical were shut down back in March for a six-week period, health funds were able to collect their usual fees without having to pay out.

Customers will be dealt another blow in October when four out of the five largest health providers – Bupa, Medibank, HCF and NIB – go ahead with their annual premium increase.

‘In an example of industry leadership, HBF deserves to be recognised for its decision not to increase premiums in the middle of this pandemic. This is in stark contrast to the other funds who are increasing their premiums on 1 October,’ Mr Price said.

‘With Victoria in lockdown again and unemployment still rising, it’s just outright greed for any private insurer to charge Australians more on 1 October.

‘Other sectors, like banking and utilities, have recognised that the impact of this pandemic is going to be felt for a long time to come and extended their response beyond 1 October. The private health insurance industry needs to keep up with these industries who have acted more fairly.’

To ease the hardship on customers, choice suggests five areas in which health insurers can provide relief.

They are calling for no premium increases for 12 months, discounts on premiums, unused extras available next year, greater hardship options during COVID-19 and more transparency.

‘Instead of telling customers what help they’re eligible for, they’ve sent out media releases and continued to make people jump through hoops,’ Mr Price said.

‘While their marketing departments have been quick to tell the community how they’re helping, our research has found a lot left to be desired in their COVID-19 responses.’

Bupa has rejected the scathing criticism and labelled CHOICE’s claims ‘irresponsible’.

‘We have provided more than $184m in financial assistance and savings directly to customers and there has been no ‘super profits’ as claimed,’ Bupa’ Managing Director of Health Insurance Emily Amos said in a statement posted to the company’s website.

‘The pause on non-urgent elective surgery and some ancillary services lasted for six weeks. During this six-week period we paid out over $280million on almost 100,000 episodes of hospital care for around 70,000 members.’

Medibank CEO Craig Drummond also hit out at the consumer group calling their accusations a ‘publicity stunt’.

‘On top of postponing premiums for 6 months, we have chosen to support our customers and community in additional ways… including a 50 per cent premium discount for six months for those doing it hardest,’ he said.

Although Mr Dummond said there was a sharp decrease in claims over the six-week nationwide shut down, elective surgeries and extras have now rebounded above normal levels. 

‘The industry regulator APRA recognises this ‘catch up’ and has told insurers to expect the majority – if not all – of surgeries and extras services disrupted through COVID-19 to ultimately take place,’ Mr Drummond said.

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