All eyes on APRA quarterly statistics

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The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority will release the latest private health insurance quarterly statistics today.

The Quarterly Statistics publication provides an important snapshot of the industry, with the latest membership numbers, benefit payments, patient out-of-pocket costs and related financial information.

Today's release will cover the three months to the end of March 2018, including health minister Greg Hunt's announcement of the lowest annual premium increase in 17 years.

The number of Australians with private health insurance fell by just over 12,000 in the previous quarter.

Roy Morgan research released a survey yesterday suggesting over 250,000 may have dropped their cover during the first three months of 2018.

"This was an increase from the same period in 2017 when it was 182,000, making it the highest number for the last five years," said the company.

APRA found that the number of Australians with private health insurance actually rose by over 26,000 in the March 2017 quarter.

The Roy Morgan survey found cost was the single biggest reason for people dropping their cover.

"Being ‘too expensive’ is the main reason that consumers give for dropping out of health insurance. This has risen to 53.3% over the year, up from 47.1% in the previous year," it said.

"The second major concern among those who didn’t renew is to do with the gap in coverage by their fund. In the current year there was a big increase in the proportion saying that their major reason for leaving was ‘too much out of pocket expense’ with 19.1%, up from 12.8% last year."

Private Healthcare Australia said it agreed rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs are major concerns for people with private health insurance. It added experience suggests a significant gap between APRA's actual statistics and the findings of the Roy Morgan survey.

"The only way to reduce premiums meaningfully is to reduce wasteful input costs," said Private Healthcare Australia. "The Government has made a start by implementing long-awaited reductions in inflated medical device benefits but there is more work to be done. We have an agreement with the government to look at this, including cost-shifting from the public sector, low-value and wasteful care, fraud and compliance issues with the MBS.

"In terms of medical specialist fees and charges, the Federal government has a committee which is working on a transparency-based solution so GPs can easily assist patients to find an appropriately qualified low-charging specialist.  One of the obstacles has been a lack of data on some specialists who are billing for things like admin and booking fees outside the Medicare and health fund billing systems. The only way you can fully assess the prevalence of this behaviour is to survey patients which we are about to start doing. We believe these charges are not for clinically relevant services and therefore should not be permitted."