Overweight people could pay more for health insurance if the Abbott government adopts a Commision on Audit proposal to allow health funds to charge some customers higher premiums because of their “lifestyle choices”.
Under the current system of “community rating”, private health insurers are forbidden from charging older or unhealthier people more for cover.
But in its report, released on Thursday, the Commission of Audit recommended health funds be allowed to vary premiums “for a limited number of lifestyle factors, including smoking, which materially increase a person’s health risk.”
NIB chief executive Mark Fitzgibbon, who has long advocated such a change, said the company already offered premium discounts to non-smokers in New Zealand, and life insurers in Australia were already able to vary premiums on risk factors such as smoking.
“Community rating is there to protect people who, through no fault of their own, through things they can’t control like their age, that they’re not penalised,” he said. “But it shouldn’t protect people who deliberately engage in behaviours which add to their risk profile.”
Mr. Fitzgibbon said if the government accepted the recommendation, NIB would look to offer discounts to members who “pursue better health behaviour, like not smoking and losing weight”
He said a discount could be offered to people with body mass index below a certain level, or who took action to reduce their weight.
Phillip Berner, chief operating officer of non-profit insurer Westfund, said it had long supported the idea of offering lower premiums to people without risk factors such as smoking.
“We should be rewarding people for their healthy behaviours and investing any saved money into preventative programs,” Mr Berner said.
It was perfectly reasonable for insurers to vary premiums on the basis of a person’s voluntary choices as smoking, excessive drinking or failing to comply with an agreed disease management program, as Terry Barnes, a policy consultant who worked for Tony Abbott when he was health minister in the Howard government.
“Why should those who do the right thing … effectively cross-subsidise others’ voluntarily made bad choices,” he said.
But he stated that penalising people for their natural propensities isn’t what they’re pushing for, as just because somebody is fat doesn’t necessarily mean that they should pay a higher private health insurance premium.
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