BUPA defers premium increase amid COVID-19 crisis
Health fund BUPA will defer a premium increase scheduled for 1 October for customers on the COVID-19 financial support packages.
The health fund giant initially planned to jack up premiums by around 3.26 per cent on April 1 this year, but deferred the increase as the COVID-19 outbreak loomed.
While most BUPA members will have to pay the increased premiums from October 1, those on JobKeeper and JobSeeker will stay on their old rates until March 2021.
Bupa Health Insurance Managing Director Emily Amos said the adjustment would happen automatically for many members.
"For the 36,000 Bupa customers that have already received financial hardship relief, they won't need to do anything to make this happen," she said.
"We will automatically apply the delay to their policy. Other customers on JobKeeper or JobSeeker can contact us to apply for the deferral."
Other customers experiencing financial difficulty could apply for a possible three month premium suspension, she said.
But the deferral for JobKeeper and JobSeeker recipients has been criticised by consumer watchdog Choice, which said it should be extended to all members.
"Not raising prices for people in hardship is the lowest bar that BUPA could meet," said Choice health spokesman Dean Price.
"Private health insurers shouldn't be unfairly profiting off people during a global pandemic and BUPA needs to extend the deferral of its premium increase to all of its customers. All private health insurers should follow HBF's plan and not increase anyone's premium on 1 October," he said.
HBF was the "first and only private health insurer to cancel its proposed premium increase for a full 12 months," said CEO John Van Der Wielen
"We are pleased to see that, six months on, BUPA has decided to follow our lead."
HBF had "focused on using its resources to put members and the community first, which is especially important during the greatest health and financial crisis in a generation," he said.
BUPA's move is the latest in a series of policy shifts Australian private health insurers have made since the outbreak of COVID-19.
NIB also deferred its premium rise for six months and has for provided health cover suspensions and waivers to 11,200 members.
Last month Medibank and ahm members in severe financial distress were offered a 50 per cent discount on their premiums for up to six months. They were also given the option of a three-month suspension of their policy.
In June AIA Health Insurance announced a cash refund (up to $900 for singles and $1800 for families) for members who faced restricted access to extras services such as dental, physio and optical due to COVID-19.
Back in July, Mr Price slammed BUPA and Medibank Private, saying the companies "failed" Australians during the COVID-19 crisis.
"The two biggest funds have performed the worst when it comes to helping Australians during COVID-19," he said. "These companies are saving massive amounts of money while people are unable to use many health services - companies increasing prices is simply taking advantage of the situation."
It has been estimated that health funds have saved over $1 billion from surgery bans and members' lack of access to physiotherapists and dentists during COVID-19 lockdowns.
BUPA's forthcoming premium rise of 3.26 per cent is above the 2020 industry average increase of 2.9 per cent.
Originally published as BUPA defers premium increase amid COVID-19 crisis