For the around 180,000 Illawarra residents with private health insurance, affordability is a major issue.
Keeping premiums down is important too for Wollongong-based insurer ahm, according to general manager Jan O’Keefe, with half its members on salaries of less than $50,000.
With federal government reforms starting to shake-up the sector, Ms O’Keefe said it was a good time for those with private cover to make sure they had the best package.
“As life changes, and you go through different ages and stages, it’s important to have a think about what’s right for you, right now,” she said.
“You may be leaving home, going to uni or starting your first job. Or you may be ready to start a family. You may need to go through palliative care or require services in your home.
“The important thing is to constantly review your private health cover each year, it’s well worth the time.”
Ms O’Keefe has welcomed the reforms, which Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has said will help with affordability and transparency.
From February the price of implanted medical devices was lowered, to reduce rising costs for health insurers – and help keep premiums down.
And from the start of this month, anyone with hospital cover is able to access in-hospital psychiatric services without the usual two-month waiting period.
“This mental health waiver is a great step, because when people need that care, they need it straight away, they can’t wait,” Ms O’Keefe said.
Other changes coming into play from April 1, 2019, will include new product categories of gold, silver and bronze to make it easier to compare cover types.
People will be able to increase their maximum excess to $750, in order to lower their premiums; and there will be improved access to travel and accommodation benefits for those living in regional and rural areas.
This was good news for Illawarra customers of ahm, said Ms O’Keefe, who often had to travel for health care.
The Wollongong founded insurer was acquired by Medibank in 2009, and underwent a restructure – with job losses as a result.
Yet now, Ms O’Keefe said, it was going from strength to strength – with around 200 employees based at the Wollongong office, and a team of 30 at Medibank’s Melbourne office.
“ahm was founded in Wollongong nearly 45 years ago by Roy Johnson, a blue collar worker from BHP,” Ms O’Keefe said.
“His daughter Lynne was diagnosed with leukaemia and he found the health system too hard to navigate so he formed his own health fund – to give people choice and help them navigate that system.
“Today ahm is the fastest growing health insurer in the market because we’ve taken some of those historic values around choice and giving people affordable options.”
Medibank and ahm hold a 14 per cent share of the private health insurance market in the seat of Cunningham alone, with around 22,000 residents covered.
Last year, $34.5 million was paid out to those members – including nearly $19 million for hospital admissions, $4.8 million for medical benefits, $4 million for prostheses and nearly $6.7 million for extras.
Orthopaedics, rehabilitation, neurosurgery, in-hospital psychiatric care and obstetrics were the top five procedures for Cunningham residents.
Amid reports of people turning their back on private health due to rising costs, Ms O’Keefe said people should weigh up the benefits.
“The speed to be seen, the choice of doctor or hospital, access to new technologies at private facilities, and the peace of mind knowing you’ll be covered if something happens – that’s invaluable.”