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Health Insurance And Human Rights Law


“In general it is inconsistent with New Zealand’s human rights laws to charge different prices to people of different ages. But there are a few exceptions to this rule. The Human Rights Act has a specific exemption relating to insurance”, the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, Ms Rosslyn Noonan, said today. “Health insurers are allowed to increase premiums for older people provided the increases are reasonable having regard to actuarial data and other relevant factors”.

Ms Noonan explained that several years ago the Human Rights Commission took legal proceedings against some health insurance providers, including Southern Cross, in response to complaints about age-related increases in premiums. As required by the law, the Commission requested advice from the Government Actuary on whether the increases were justifiable. It was his view at that time that Southern Cross’s pricing structure could not be justified because people aged less than 45 were subsidising older people to an unreasonable extent.

The implication of this advice was that the removal of this subsidy would make health insurance even more expensive for those we were trying to help. The Commission therefore did not press ahead with the case.ƒx

“However”, Ms Noonan commented, “it overstates matters to suggest that the changes Southern Cross proposes are required or even suggested by the Human Rights Commission. There are clearly other factors at work”.

Ms Noonan added:

“The wider policy environment around private health insurance remains problematic. The fact that people can be charged more, at a time in their lives of greatest need and least income, suggests that private health insurance is a far from adequate means of meeting the health care needs of an aging population. International human rights law recognises, within certain important limits, a right to medical care and it is a responsibility of the State to ensure that right is realised”.


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