Private health membership reaches all-time high with 14.6 million covered

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Private Healthcare Australia says that following 12 consecutive quarters of growth, the number of policyholders is now at an all-time high, with 14.6 million covered.

In the latest statistical release from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA), hospital treatment membership increased by 2.3 per cent, or 270,160, in June 2023.

Membership among the younger population aged 20 to 49 increased by 2.9 per cent.

Premium revenue in the year ending 30 June 2023 increased by 3.3 per cent, predominantly due to membership growth, said APRA. Claims costs increased over the period by 2.4 per cent, which reflected higher levels of utilisation of services.

PHA said that over the past three years, since July 2020, Australians have turned to private health cover in record numbers to access timely healthcare as the public system struggles to keep up with demand.

Access to timely mental health treatment is critical, and this is one of the main drivers of growth in PHI, it said. Mental health is now the top reason members under the age of 59 are going to hospital.

CEO Dr Rachel David said, “Despite increasing cost of living pressure, people are prioritising access to health care. Times are tough, Australian consumers need to know we’ve got their back and health funds are doing all they can to keep premiums affordable.”

“Health funds have been working to keep premium rises well below CPI. Since the start of the pandemic $3 billion has been returned to members to compensate for services that were reduced or unavailable as a consequence of the lockdowns.

“We do need the Federal Government to work with us so we can continue to put downward pressure on premiums. While inflation is a challenge across the economy, there are levers that can be pulled right now to address inflation in the health sector in the short term.

“The overpricing of generic medical devices is a key factor driving higher premiums. The government sets the price for generic medical devices which are 30 to 100 per cent higher than in international markets."

PHA said the APRA data reveals a 5.6 per cent increase in benefits for medical devices. It said this growth has been driven by volume.

However, the Medical Technology Association of Australia said the APRA data showed that the average benefit paid for medical devices continues to decline.

“In the last 12 months, we have seen the average PL [Prostheses Lise] benefit - which is the amount insurers are required to reimburse on behalf of their patient - drop by 4%. This is a continued trend downwards, meaning the corporate health insurance industry is continuing to save big on medical devices in Australia,” said CEO Ian Burgess.