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Southern Cross picks insurance rebound

The number of New Zealanders with health insurance continued to fall in 2012 but Southern Cross’ chief executive says it could have been worse.

Tuesday, February 12th 2013, 8:00AM

by Benn Bathgate

Figures from the Health Funds Association (HFANZ) revealed the number of people with health insurance fell 0.1% (-1,400) in the December quarter, was down 0.8% (-10,700) over the year and 3.2% (-45,000) over the last three years.

“I’m actually quite pleased because it could have been a lot worse,” Peter Tynan said.

“I think it’s actually holding up a lot better than what we had anticipated. I see some demand growing next year.”

Tynan said the fall in cover was largely attributable to the recession, which he said had particularly affeccted group schemes, and consumers downgrading from comprehensive plans to major medical.

But he said the National Health Committee, an independent statutory body that makes recommendations to the Minister of Health, is examining what procedures should be dealt with in the private sector – something he said would give the health insurance sector a boost.

“There’s a very large range of procedures they’re looking to move into the private arena or stop funding from a public point of view. That’s certainly going to aid our value story,” he said.

“They’re talking about quite common procedures being moved out of public such as grommets which will be paid for by private health insurance, so I can see maybe for those reasons it will pick up next year.”

Tynan said he had also seen a rebound in the previously flat group business –  Southern Cross had signed more new groups this year than the prior two years - and that adviser and broker business had picked up.

He said in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes a lot of New Zealanders reviewed their insurances, something he said “certainly pushed people more towards advisers”.

“We’ve done a bit better in that [adviser] channel, we’ve tried to be more active there, but also advisers and brokers are good at what they do, people go to them when there’s complexity and they can simplify it.”

Benn Bathgate is a business reporter for ASSET and Good Returns, email story ideas to benn@goodreturns.co.nz

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