Latest figures showing health insurers paid out more than half a billion dollars in claims to New Zealanders aged over 60 in the past year prove the value of retaining health insurance into retirement.
Health Funds Association statistics released last week said total claims paid for the year to the end of September were $1.174 billion, a record $532 million of which was paid out to the over-60s.
Around a quarter of a million New Zealanders aged over 60 have health insurance, and that number continues to rise as baby boomers reach that birthday milestone and new policies continue to be taken out. In the 12 months to the end of September 2017, 5400 more people were in the over-60 age group than in the previous year.
The claims total means an average of more than $2000 paid out to each policyholder over 60 during the year.
Health insurance is funding significant volumes of healthcare for older New Zealanders, particularly for elective surgery, and all indications are pointing to continued increases in coming years.
The growing numbers of over-60s retaining their health insurance, combined with increased volumes of treatments funded, mean health insurance will be funding well in excess of $2 billion in healthcare costs for the over-60s over the next four years.
As the population ages and healthcare costs increase, health insurance is vital in complementing public sector funding so that more New Zealanders are able to access healthcare promptly.
Around half of all elective surgeries performed in this country are privately funded, and this frees up the public sector to focus on acute services and provide elective surgeries for those who cannot afford the alternatives.
The new Labour-led Government has promised to increase public hospital funding, but more innovative thinking is required to tackle what is estimated could be an $8 billion shortfall in health funding by 2060.
Health insurance has the capacity to play a greater role in meeting future healthcare costs and thus relieve pressure on government budgets and the public health system. Private health insurance is able to routinely fund high-cost treatments that user charges cannot. That we can fund $1.174 billion worth of healthcare through less than a third of New Zealanders having health insurance proves there is the potential for the private sector to do more.
So far 2017 has seen some of the strongest annual growth in coverage since 2001. Encouraging more older New Zealanders to take out or retain their health insurance policies will help everyone gain access to treatment when they need it.