HCF's Sheena Jack on growth and increasing the appetite for reform

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HCF CEO Sheena Jack says "very good products and excellent" value underpinned the insurer's strong membership growth in 2019-20.

Ms Jack spoke with HealthDispatch after HCF announced its membership grew by six per cent in 2019-20. "In fact, HCF grew more than every other health fund combined," said the insurer.

Ms Jack said the growth was "mostly driven" by switchers from other health funds but that it also included people new to private insurance.

"The quality of what we do makes us stand out from the crowd," she said, adding this has been recognised through awards for products and customer service.

"This is in the context of a highly regulated industry where differentiation can be challenging. It really comes down to how you do things, as a private insurer, because that builds strength in the brand and consumer trust."

Ms Jack said the entire health system had to quickly adapt in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. "For us, that meant a big shift to digital interactions. I believe this change will be significantly enduring.

"More broadly, the pandemic has had a huge impact on our business model with the deferral of some claims caused by the temporary shutdown in most elective surgery. We have been doing weekly modelling since the start of the pandemic to understand the pattern of claims. 

"In a post-pandemic Australia, I think there will be a permanent move to healthcare in the home. Of course, a lot of that was already in place but the adoption has accelerated.

"There is going to be a very big surgery backlog in the public system and I think that will impact the private system, particularly for insurers in terms of customer retention.

"Demand for mental health services was increasing before the pandemic but it has escalated and I expect that will be ongoing."

Ms Jack hopes the pandemic "increases the appetite" for reform and willingness to address some of the "tough issues".

"Reform is hard because it impacts sectors in different ways but we need to have the conversation about how we can make the system more efficient and ensure fairness in costs and pricing."

"It needs 'will' and one very important area of discussion is the restoration of the Private Health Insurance Rebate. The focus on the Rebate as a cost is shortsighted given it brings money into the health system and eases pressure on the public hospital system."