Four of Australia’s biggest health insurers, Medibank, HCF, Bupa and NIB have scrapped plans to increase premiums on 1 April in light of many facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The big four followed the West Australian not-for-profit fund HBC, which last week, announced they would be freezing premiums.

The result, and some good news, most Aussies with private health cover will not see an increase for at least six months.

The move comes after the government’s ban on all non-elective surgeries to free up the private health sector to deal with COVID-19.

Medibank, when it announced its decision on Sunday night, said the planned increases for April 1 would be deferred for six months. And was the first to extend the premium increase.

“There is nothing normal about the way we are living and working right now,” Medibank chief executive Craig Drummond told the Financial Review.

“The coronavirus is presenting us with the most significant health and economic challenge this country has seen in 100 years. That calls for extraordinary measures from all of us.

“We hope these initiatives go some way to relieve the understandable stress, fear and anxiety our customers are experiencing, and consistent with what we said earlier this week, any further benefit from lower claims, including from the cancellation of non-urgent elective surgery, will be returned to customers.”

HCF, Bupa and NIB quickly followed suit on Monday. Bupa’s Australia’s chief executive Hisham El-Ansary said this would “give us all time to draw breath and assess the impact of the suspension of non-urgent elective surgery on hospitalisations, as well as the take up of newly introduced tele-health services”.

He also told the Financial Review that they had already received thousands of customer applications for the financial hardship assistance fund, announced last month.

“That opportunity remains open, and we encourage any customer requiring assistance to contact us,” Mr El-Ansary told the Financial Review.

Medibank has also announced a package of measures to help customers during the pandemic. It includes a $50 million package which allows customers in financial hardship to suspend their policies or access premium payment relief and expand hospital cover to include chest, lung, heart and kidney.

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