3AW Drive program interview with Ben Harris on health insurers adding value to attract young members

Station: 3AW
Program: Drive
Date: 20/1/2021
Time: 3:37 PM
Compere: Tom Elliott
Interviewee: Ben Harris, Director of Policy and Research, Private Healthcare Australia


TOM ELLIOT: Now it seems that increasing numbers of young people have worked this out, and they’re taking out health insurance. A lot of them also are still living with mum and dad. So they’re at home, they’re just not used to paying bills themselves. And the health insurance industry is looking at innovative ways to try and get younger people to sign up. One of those ways is a type of bribe. They want to hand out Uber Eats vouchers to people who agree – younger people – who agree to take up health insurance. Our next guest is a Director of Policy and Research at Private Healthcare Australia, Ben Harris. Good afternoon.
BEN HARRIS: Hi, Tom. How are you?
TOM ELLIOT: Well, I’m good. I remember I got health insurance when I was 18 or 19 because the footy club I played for said that we had to have it. And yet the two or three times I was badly injured, I just went to the Royal Melbourne Hospital, which being a public hospital was free. So- but I’ve kept it up ever since then. Is that sort of thing unusual these days?
BEN HARRIS: Not really, Tom. What we find is that a lot of young people pick up private health insurance. Unfortunately, quite a few don’t. And then if something goes wrong, they need to rely on the public system. We know that the public system has got some incredible wait times, even more so after 70,000 elective surgeries were cancelled in Victoria last year because of COVID. And what we’re finding is young people aren’t great at looking at their own risk. We all think we’re bulletproof when we’re younger. And like you, you get a few footy injuries. I had the same thing. My footy club said I needed to have to private health insurance. I was in Canberra and I’ll tell you what, I needed it at one stage. But what we’re seeing now is more and more young people needing mental healthcare. And the public mental health system just can’t cope. For young people, if you need mental healthcare, the private system is an absolute lifeline. And we saw that with the Royal Commission report last year.
TOM ELLIOT: Sure. Well, I mean I read today that private health funds are looking at giving young people Uber Eats vouchers to consider- to make them sign up. Will that sort of approach work?
BEN HARRIS: Look, a lot of health funds will offer all sorts of things to start the conversation, to get people thinking about private health insurance. And if Uber Eats or a gym membership, or something gets you over the line, then that’s great. But what we need is people thinking about their health and what they can do to improve their health, but also what they can do to make sure that if something goes wrong, then they get- they are insured. Private health insurance is one of those things you really hope you don’t use that much.
TOM ELLIOT: No, that’s right. Although, I must say going back to the sporting issue, I didn’t use it in the process of getting injuries. But later on in life, here’s been a couple of those injuries which plagued me and it actually has been useful and saved me a lot of money by having it to this present day.
BEN HARRIS: Yeah. And we’re finding a lot of younger people are quite- are really taking up some of the new things that are being offered, like telehealth. We can do tele- cover tele-physiotherapy, tele-psychiatry, even tele-podiatry for some things. And also in-home care, it’s the way of the future. Going into hospital is something which is necessary for a lot of people, but for a lot of others just isn’t necessary. And it’s also for care that can be done in the home.
TOM ELLIOT: One of the recent problems I’ve noted though is that industry says our healthcare costs are going up 10 to 12 per cent per annum. The Federal Government Health Minister Greg Hunt says: oh, I can’t put up people’s premiums that much. So he puts them up, say 5 per cent. And what the health funds do is just start eliminating things, that they simply won’t cover certain things anymore to try and make up the gap. And I had a good look at my health cover a couple of years ago and I was shocked at how many things that my policy excludes. Is that being a bit underhanded?
BEN HARRIS: Look, there’s certainly a number of products out there where there are exclusions, and you really should be looking at your product every couple of years, talking with your health fund. And you know, when you turn 40, or 50, or 60, or whatever, you needs will change. The next increase in health premiums that the Minister’s announced is 2.74 per cent average, which is the lowest in 20 years. And you know, this contrasts with the public system getting 6.5 per cent increase from the Federal Government. So private health insurance is a lot more efficient, but there are some exclusions, and you need to make sure you’ve got the exclusions and the things that you actually won’t need.
TOM ELLIOT: Yeah, I agree. I looked through my policy and I had to change it, because there were things that were excluded that I reckon I might need without going into too much detail. Thank you, Ben. Ben Harris, the Director of Policy and Research at Private Healthcare Australia.
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