Victoria’s reopening the final piece in Australia’s elective surgery bounce back


While the latest health insurance figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) reveal a challenging outlook for health insurers, the number of Victorian Bupa customers preparing to have elective surgery is almost 3 per cent higher than this time last year[1].

At a national level, Bupa eligibility checks currently sit five per cent above March 2020 levels.

Data from health insurer Bupa reveals this is the first time Victoria has reached this mark since COVID-19 elective surgery restrictions commenced nationally in March at which point eligibility checks dropped by approximately 60 per cent.

Bupa’s Managing Director of Health Insurance, Emily Amos said this was a significant sign that community confidence had been re-established in Victoria following the easing of restrictions and a strong rebound in other states earlier in the year.

Ms Amos said Victorian elective surgeries resumed in mid-September with a sharp increase in bookings, but it was only as the broader community reopened and confidence returned that surgery queries eclipsed last year’s levels.

“We know there have been some members of the community who may have chosen to stay away from hospitals while COVID remained active, even once elective surgery resumed,” Ms Amos said.

“It’s encouraging to see that community confidence is coming back and people are comfortable heading back to their doctors and into hospitals to have their operations.

“Any surgery impacted by the elective surgery bans arising from COVID was only ever going to be delayed rather than cancelled. We recognised this and have kept funds aside to cover this delay in procedures,” Ms Amos said.

Bupa claims data has also revealed the average benefit paid for many procedures such as knee and hip replacements is higher than 2019, reinforcing the longer-term trend of healthcare costs growing at a higher rate than health insurance premiums.

Ms Amos said that the latest APRA health insurance data shows the priority must remain keeping care accessible and affordable against a backdrop of an uncertain economic environment and a public system that is seeing wait lists blow out to over 1.5 years for common elective procedures.

“During the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, we worked hard to keep as many people insured as possible. A major part of this was deferring premium increases by 12 months for around 40,000 Bupa customers on the Government’s JobKeeper or JobSeeker programs.

“While premium support has helped slow the rate of discontinuances in the industry, it does not address long-term affordability issues. Now more than ever, all players in the private health system need to work together to ensure that patients aren’t left holding a bigger bill, whether that be a direct bill or higher insurance premiums for the same amount of cover.

“This means greater collaboration amongst stakeholders such as government, private hospitals, doctors and medical device companies to minimise waste while ensuring customers are at the centre of all reform efforts. As funders of health care, health insurers have the strongest incentive to keep customers well and deliver optimal patient outcomes,” Ms Amos said.

Media reference number: 20/100

[1] According to Bupa eligibility check statistics.