5AA Mornings program interview with Dr Rachel David on COVID, health fund customer support and premiums

Station: 5AA
Program: Mornings
Date: 20/10/2021
Time: 10:08 AM
Compere: Leon Byner
Interviewee: Dr Rachel David, CEO, Private Healthcare Australia


LEON BYNER: Now, COVID-19 does not mean the treatment of other illnesses stops. And sometimes it gets so much profile that we forget about so many other things for which people have got an issue and they almost feel like they’re swamped. Well, remember, you’re not. You’re not. People continue to battle cardio related illness, chronic disease, pain. I tell you what, living with pain for a long time, even if you’re on analgesics, is not easy. It affects everything, and it can be psychology, physiotherapy, speech pathology, dietetics, exercise physiology, all sorts of things. So, let’s talk with the CEO of Private Healthcare Australia and just find out what sort of demands are changing on the insurance. And if you can afford it, of course – many can’t, and I understand that – then it’s good to have it as a bit of a backup. Let’s talk with Dr Rachel David.

Rachel, thanks for joining us today. What issue would you say is the biggest pull on the private health industry?

RACHEL DAVID: Right at the moment, it’s waiting lists in the public sector for elective surgery across the whole of Australia. That’s quite understandable in those states where they’ve sort of been smashed by COVID-19 and where hospitals have actually had to close for elective surgery. But it’s also occurring in states like WA which haven’t been touched by COVID-19 but to prepare the public system, a lot of elective surgery has been shut down. So what we’re hearing from our members is that to get access to elective surgery in a reasonable time, private health at the moment is often the only option for people living in a number of areas.
LEON BYNER: So if you’re not able, for any reason, to afford that, you’re really between a rock and a hard place, aren’t you?
RACHEL DAVID: Well, that’s right. And I guess the other thing we’re seeing for younger people is an increase in admission for mental health conditions, like out of control anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance abuse disorders. And that has definitely risen through the pandemic, but we think it will continue to rise as some of the financial income support that was offered by government has withdrawn.
LEON BYNER: What’s this going to do to premiums for private health?
RACHEL DAVID: Look, we’re hoping we can keep premiums as affordable as possible. That number one goal with health funds in Australia is to keep the system accessible. We have some challenges with the rising demand for surgery in the private sector. And as you know, I have talked about this many times, we’re trying to reduce some of the excessive prices that the federal government sets for medical technology. And that’s been a slow process, slower than we would have liked, but we’re still shooting for as low a premium rise, if any, as low possible towards the end of the year.
LEON BYNER: Now what about people who, through no fault of their own, lose their employment, or, often is the case, have a diminution in hours that they can work? And that means that they’re going to have to start looking at what they’re spending, and inevitably they question their private health insurance premium. Is there anything that we can do for them?
RACHEL DAVID: Yeah look, there is. All of our health funds have offered varying levels of financial relief to people who have been impacted by the current economic and pandemic circumstances in this way. Before anyone considers dropping their private health insurance for that reason, I would urge them to speak to their health fund.
LEON BYNER: Okay, so- and some people might say, listening, oh Leon, okay, you can talk, but you don’t pay, you still don’t get coverage. What do you say to that?
RACHEL DAVID: Look, a number of funds are offering coverage even if people aren’t able to pay for a while. So, I think the first option for people is really to talk to their health fund and see what they are offering. In addition to this, some health funds have temporarily paid fund- obtained funds back to people because the claims on extras cover has been reduced during the pandemic. So there’s a lot of options open for people. But I suggest they don’t take rash decisions in this area.
LEON BYNER: Okay. Just tell me a little bit more about this. So for these extras, you’re actually refunding some customers?
RACHEL DAVID: Well, look, yeah, a number of health funds for people who have not been able to claim, are actually refunding money, either as cash back or as a reduction in their premium.
RACHEL DAVID: They’ve made separate announcements. It’s a competitive industry and they run their own businesses. But again, that’s something people should talk to their health fund about.
LEON BYNER: Is it your observation, Rachel- I’m talking with the CEO of Private Healthcare Australia, Dr Rachel David. Is it your view that since COVID, the whole ballpark has somewhat been turned on its head?
RACHEL DAVID: Look, yeah, I think a lot of people are much more concerned about their health and well-being than perhaps in the past, before the pandemic when a lot of this was taken for granted. And now people are waking up and seeing, well, a lot of things they thought were guaranteed and were taking for granted, are not guaranteed. And that- unfortunately, one of those things for a while, for the next two years, is treatment in a public hospital for a number of conditions.
RACHEL DAVID: And one of the things that we are asking people to do at the moment, because this- perhaps a fear has developed to seeking medical attention or going to hospital, is to make sure they do present for their regular tests and for check-ups if they have a chronic illness. We have seen a drop off in people presenting who really do need to see their doctor from time to time.
RACHEL DAVID: And that’s anyone who has been diagnosed with a chronic condition and needs a regular check-up. And for those regular screening tests that we know we need to present for, but sometimes we put off, whether it’s cervical cancer screening, breast screening, the bowel cancer test [indistinct] after 50 and you’ve been checked, don’t put that stuff off, particularly if you’ve got a concern that’s been niggling away, because we are seeing, in some areas, people presenting to hospital with far more advanced disease than is necessary.
LEON BYNER: Look, thank you. Rachel, CEO of Private Healthcare Australian, saying that, look, if you’ve got an issue, talk to your fund pretty quickly, because your health is just so important.
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