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Your health & yet another COVID-19 article

Yes, another article about health insurance. Why bother when in NZ we have a public system that many in the OECD covet? As good as it is, there are plenty of gaps.

Key Points:

  • We have a good Public health system but… COVID-19
  • The Health System you didn’t know
  • Don’t over-insure

We have a good Public health system but… COVID-19

People I speak with have a range of views about the health system here in New Zealand. Some think it is fine, some don’t. Are they both right? Of course! Their perception can often stem from any direct experience they’ve had or second-hand conversations with close relatives and friends. There are two parts to this unofficial assessment. Was the discussion based on ‘acute care’ or ‘elective care’? And dare I say it, if they had treatment, were they ‘lucky’?

The Public Health System is very good at acute care. You get hit by a bus, ambulance comes along, you get patched up. The system is very effective with this type of treatment. However, if you need elective treatment, it becomes a very different situation.

Elective treatment may include some of the following:



Cataract surgery

$3,300 – $4,500

Thyroidectomy (removal of the thyroid gland)

$11,000 – $15,000

Colonoscopy (diagnostic)

$2,000 -$2,600

Hernia repair

$7,000 – $18,000

Resection of endometriosis

$9,000 – $15,000

Knee Reconstruction (total)

$22,000- $27,000

Now for the COVID-19 part of the article. If you were waiting on elective treatment prior to COVID-19 and the pandemic – your waiting times have blown out..! I haven’t seen official figures on this yet, but let’s go with some logic. If we use the Ministry for Health statistics of planned procedures for 2019/2020, they were looking at 277,792 nationally. That is 5787 a week over 48 weeks. The national lock-down that we all experienced (at Level 4) was for 33 days or 4.7 weeks. Therefore, using simple math 27,199 elective procedures did not happen in Level 4. If we look at Levels 3 & 4, that number becomes 40,509.

Most people understand that waiting times for elective treatment on the public system can take far longer than the private system. But do you think that those waiting times have now been exacerbated by needing to ‘catch-up’ on 40,000 procedures? Do you think the pain assessors, may be more strict about which case is ‘more urgent’ versus others? Of course it has. If ever there was a need for private cover, this will highlight the challenge faced by the Public system.

The Health System you didn’t know

I attended a conference with nib Health recently. They gave us some interesting statistics about the New Zealand Health system.

  • 17 out of 20 DHBs (District Health Boards) – Patients are waiting longer than the required timeframe for their first specialist assessment. [Pre-COVID-19].*
  • 19 out of 20 DHBs – Patients are not being treated within the required timeframe after getting a commitment to treatment. [Pre-COVID-19].*

*September 2019

  • 280,000 adults require elective surgery (with 170,000 not deemed sufficiently serious enough)


Average length of time from GP referral to elective surgery

  • 76 days private (50% completed within a month)
  • 177 days Public (40% waiting longer than 6 months)


Whether you agree with private health cover or not, without it, our Public system would have even more stress. $1.36Billion were paid in claims for private health in a year (2019). Imagine if the Public system needed to absorb that as well.

Don’t over-insure

There is a key place for private cover within the overall health system in New Zealand. The public system is good, but it is stretched beyond capacity. If you needed treatment, you were in pain, would want to wait more than 6 months for treatment? Would you want your children to suffer the same?

Of course not. The question then is about cost. Not all insurance is the same, not all providers are the same. Buying health insurance is not like buying a tin of beans. Get the cover for where you are at, with the circumstances that you have. You don’t need to buy the Heinz brand, that has all the bells and whistles if you cannot afford it. You don’t buy car insurance to replace the wing mirror. You get insurance to cover the big stuff.

If you are not sure what all that means, talk with your adviser. They will help you navigate the solution that meets you where you are at today.

Can we help you?

Of course we can

help me

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