By Genevieve Waldie
Australian private health insurance funds are rising to meet the challenges presented to their members by COVID-19.
While the virus will strike many down with its flu-like symptom, it will also affect many more in other ways: financially, physically and mentally.
To combat this, private health funds are looking at a range of measures such as freezing or waiving premiums, and approving new methods of service delivery to maintain safe social distancing.
Anyone experiencing financial distress as a result of COVID 19 can contact their health fund to discuss their options with their particular fund and cover.
Private Healthcare Australia Chief Executive Dr Rachel David says the primary focus of health funds is to meet the needs of the community and members in these challenging and uncertain times. Offering financial support by way of premium waivers is an important first step.
“Health fund members who have been severely impacted by job loss or underemployment as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic are urged to contact their fund directly as they may be eligible to have their premium waived for an extended period,” says Dr David.
Dr David said that initially, it might be difficult to ensure benefits are paid quickly as electronic claiming systems (in particular, HICAPS) and some health funds’ processes are not set up to deliver benefits for telehealth services. PHA (Australian Psychological Society) and individual funds will address the system issues as quickly as possible.
The currents guidelines regarding safe social distancing make delivery of many health services difficult.
Many companies are looking at novel ways of service delivery and already fast-tracking access for members to teleconsultations with psychologists.
Dr David says that “individual telehealth consultations with psychologists are well supported by the evidence and health funds want to make sure people are able to continue with their treatment, as it is obviously a very stressful time for many Australians.”
Several funds have already approved psychologist teleconsultation from March 30 subject to criteria.
While COVID-19 will indeed be a stressful time, not everyone will have access to private health insurance programs.
The Department of Health portal www.headtohealth.gov.au brings together apps, online programs and other mental health resources available to all to help with wellbeing at this difficult time.