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Health insurance boost first since 2009

Health insurance numbers are showing signs of growth after more than four years of decline, in a reflection of New Zealand’s improved economic outlook, according to the Health Funds Association (HFANZ).

HFANZ chief executive Roger Styles said when releasing the figures today that the number of New Zealanders with health insurance had improved by 800 in the December 2013 quarter, on the back of growing employment and economic confidence.

“It is a good sign that we’ve seen a return to positive growth in the number of policyholders largely on the back of an improving economy. As things gain momentum over the next year or two, we will likely see further growth in the number of lives covered.”

Mr Styles said there was some anecdotal evidence that the role for employer-subsidised health insurance might get a boost as the labour market tightens and firms looked at wider benefits in an attempt to attract and retain staff.

“This is all a reflection of our rock star economy,” Mr Styles said, using the phrase coined by global bank HSBC to describe New Zealand’s strong predicted growth this year.

Total lives covered by health insurance as at December 31, 2013 stood at 1.336 million, an increase of 800, or 0.1 percent, over the past quarter and the first quarterly increase recorded since June 2009. 2

On an annual basis, lives covered declined by 11,300, or 0.8 percent. For the past five years, the number of lives covered has been trending downward, with a reduction of 60,000 lives covered – or around 4.4 percent – since December 2008. Mr Styles said the declining trend had flattened out over 2012 and 2013.

Claims paid for the December 2013 quarter totalled $242 million, up 5.2 percent on claims paid in the December 2012 quarter. Claims paid for the 12 months ending December 31, 2013 were $943 million, up 7.7 percent on December 2012 year claims.

Mr Styles said the claims paid in the December quarter were the third-highest recorded for a quarter, with the highest having been the $256 million paid out in the previous September 2013 quarter.

“Total health insurance claims paid are on track to reach a billion dollars this year, underpinning the valuable contribution health insurance makes to total health spending,” he said.

Premium income for the December 2013 quarter totalled $293 million, up $6.5 million or 2.3 percent on the September 2013 quarter. Annual premium income for the year to the end of December was $1.140 billion, up 4.3 percent on the December 2012 year.

ENDS

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