COVID-19: Private Health Insurers responding

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Private Health insurers are making adjustments in response to COVID-19 and new restrictions on gatherings and businesses.

nib announced yesterday it was withdrawing its guidance for financial year 2020 given the "profound uncertainty" created by COVID-19.

According to chair Steve Crane, the company could not provide clarity on the impact of COVID-19 but was sharing some "insights and assumptions".

He said the most likely significant near term impact will be a reduction in discretionary treatment in private hospitals. "Approximately 94% of all private hospital admissions in Australia are elective or planned with private hospitals accounting for about 66% of all elective surgery," he said.

"Longer term assumptions around COVID-19 are of course, much more problematic. While we all hope the crisis will pass quickly and market conditions repair, the timing is extremely unpredictable. And macroeconomic consequences, shifts in consumer behaviour, Government policy responses and a range of other factors could impact the PHI market and nib permanently (including in a positive way)," he said.

Mr Crane said concern about COVID-19 and disease risk might be assisting in customer retention but that the "high risk" of an economic recession may weaken demand for private health insurance.

As of yesterday, Medibank said it was reducing its retail footprint to 76 stores across Australia, with around half operating Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The other half will operate Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The company said it is working to ensure its stores meet the highest standards of hygiene.

"Outside of our retail network, the vast majority of our employees across the country have been working from home," it said.

It said, "We strongly encourage customers to maximise social distancing and take advantage of our customer support team on the phones and 24/7 web chat or use the My Medibank app for claims and other simple service items. Customers can also continue to send in claims via post (Medibank Private Limited, GPO BOX 2984, Melbourne VIC 3001)."

Medibank also said it has assembled a team from across its business, including Chief Medical Officer Dr Linda Swan, that is monitoring the situation closely. "This team is overseeing the operational requirements of our business with sight of what we need to do now and an eye to potential scenarios for the future," it said.

HBF said it would also pause face-to-face member service in branches.

“The health of our members and our own people is obviously our first priority and we believe this is the only responsible step to take,” said CEO John Van Der Wielen.

“We’re very aware that many of the members who come into our branches are older and we know these are the very people most at risk from the virus.”

HBF said its branch staff would continue to work from within its branches to service members but through other channels including phone and online chat. Mr Van Der Wielen said no HBF staff would be stood down.