PEOPLE who Quit Smoking or Lose Weight could soon win a discount on their health insurance.
The man likely to be health minister if the Coalition wins the federal election, Peter Dutton, told News Limited that it was a “great failing” of the current system that it offered no incentive for people to “take care of their own health”. Mr Dutton refused to discuss details, but sources within the industry said the Opposition was interested in offering a larger government-funded insurance rebate to people who, for example, lowered their Body Mass Index (BMI) or had regular dental check-ups.
Insurers, meanwhile, have been pushing to be allowed to provide cheaper cover to people who lower their risk, as well as those who are healthier. At the moment “community rating” bans discrimination by reasons including health. ”We would very much to like to recognise the fact that people who don’t smoke provide a lower level of risk,” said Phillip Berner, chief operating officer at Westfund, the 12th largest insurer in Australia with more than 100,000 members. Smokers cost funds about $250 a year more, Mr Berner said. ”Obesity, drug and alcohol abuse (and) mental health are all areas where the same sorts of principle could reasonably be applied.”
Mark Fitzgibbon, CEO of NIB, said community rating should only protect people with sickness they couldn’t control. ”It shouldn’t be designed to protect people against bad behaviour,” Mr Fitzgibbon told News Limited. He strongly favoured incentives to encourage people to give up smoking or lower their BMI. A recent government discussion paper on competition and premiums posed the question: “Does community rating create a barrier to pricing innovation and reduce incentives to keep the sick well?”
A submission from Rob Bramsby, CEO of the fourth-largest insurer, HBF, said “there is no way to reward those who look after their health”. Westfund’s Mr Berner said that a consequence of this was the rise of “exclusionary products”. A quarter of all policies now fail to cover at least one type of treatment – a five-fold increase on five years ago. A submission to that discussion paper from 10th-ranked Defence Health CEO David Lynch said: “If risk rating is allowed, exclusionary products may not be required as risk will be priced appropriately.”
Health Minister Tanya Plibersek is not persuaded, telling News Limited the Government was “100 per cent committed” to community rating and not in favour of discounts for non-smokers. ”To me that sounds like a penalty for smokers,” Ms Plibersek said. Mr Dutton said he supported the Big Health Insurance Switch. “If it’s going to help consumers with their premiums and if it’s going to promote private health insurance then it’s a great campaign,” he said.
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