Following the trend in the public sector, not-for-profit health insurer Southern Cross Health Society funded a record 154,000 elective surgeries in the last calendar year. This was despite an industry-wide trend which saw the number of insured drop.
Surgeries funded by Southern Cross were up 8% or around 11,000 on 2009. This included a big jump in orthopaedic procedures, up 17% in the last year to a total of 16,500 surgeries, and skin surgeries, up 23% on 2009 figures.
Southern Cross Healthcare Group CEO Dr Ian McPherson said it was good to hear that more people were getting access to surgery. However, he said it should be of concern to New Zealand that rising demand for surgery was not being mirrored by an increase in health insurance coverage.
Southern Cross Health Society membership declined by 5,666 in the last calendar year. In addition, around 25,000 members downgraded their cover (reducing the range of benefits under their policy in order to lower their premium). Southern Cross is New Zealand’s largest health insurer with a current membership of around 839,000.
Health Funds Association of New Zealand analysis indicates that by 2028 around 500,000 New Zealanders will need elective surgery each year - largely due to the ageing population. The private sector currently carries out around half of all elective surgery in New Zealand.
Dr McPherson said, “In the last financial year a record 138,443 patients received elective surgery in the public sector. And just last week the Government announced it would ensure an additional 4,000 patients receive elective surgery this year.
“That’s good news. But the reality is, the total demand is getting bigger all of the time. Fewer people with insurance means that to achieve the country’s desired health outcomes, the public system will continually be taking on a bigger proportion of that demand. But New Zealand can’t afford to go on at this rate funding record-breaking numbers of surgeries.
“As with retirement savings, New Zealanders are going to have to take some personal responsibility for their future healthcare needs - either through personal savings or health insurance.”
Dr McPherson said an additional means of tackling the growing demand for healthcare was to make use of the spare capacity available in the private sector.
“The Prime Minister said last week that the public health service would focus on providing high priority services as effectively as possible. Particularly for elective services, a cost-effective option is to engage more with the private sector – one which has proven its ability to deliver large volumes.”
An independent 2009 report concluded that bringing existing private hospital operating theatres up to full utilisation and increasing operational hours to a ten hour day would make available the equivalent of 59 additional theatres.
Dr McPherson said this capacity should be utilised before spending more on building new theatres in public hospitals.