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Private health operators flag ‘important role’ in COVID recovery

COVID-19 has prompted a number of pauses on elective procedures over the past six months. These have now restarted across the country and Victoria is on the path to fully resuming treatments, though the state is facing a backlog of 60,000 patients.

New South Wales is facing wait lists of more than 100,000 patients.

Private health insurers say the pandemic has driven home the importance of cover to Australians at a time where membership is a big concern for the sector. Quarterly figures from the Australian Prudential and Regulatory Authority (APRA) for the June quarter showed hospital treatment memberships fell by more than 30,000 in the three months to June 30.

Chief executive of insurer nib Mark Fitzgibbon said “nobody was celebrating” wait times for elective procedures, however the situation was highlighting the value of private cover.

“COVID-19 has elevated in the minds of consumers the risks associated with disease and the need to be protected,” he said.

Despite concerns about retention of members across the sector, Mr Fitzgibbon said consumers were prioritising spending on healthcare during this period and this was driving members to hold onto their policies even against the backdrop of recession conditions.

Nib revealed during its 2020 financial results in August it had grown policyholders by 1.9 per cent over the past year.

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Public and private hospital operators have seen increased cooperation over the past six months as private operators inked agreements with state and federal governments to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

The private hospital sector conducts more than two-thirds of elective surgeries in Australia and throughout the pandemic it has also seen wait times for procedures escalate.

However, operators say volumes have bounced back outside of Victoria and say they are open to continuing to help the public system int the coming months.

Ramsay Health Care has maintained its pandemic agreement with Victoria which has seen it lend staff and resources to admit and treat public patients since the start of the pandemic.

“Going forward, we will continue to work closely with the public sector to assist with reducing their elective surgery waiting lists where possible,” a Ramsay Health Care spokesman said.

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