Is private health insurance damaging the NZ public health system?

New Zealand has a great public health system. We know that if we faced a life a life-threatening illness or accident we would be well looked after. But if you are facing elective surgery, you would be placed in a waiting list. And you could be facing a very long wait.

Private health insurance can help you jump the line, get the treatment you need straight away. At the latest count, 1.34 million New Zealanders have opted for health insurance – close to 30% of the country according to the Health Funds Association. But are we hindering the public sector by going private?

When pondering this, one of the main concerns is the belief that medical professionals are leaving the public sector for the private one because they get better pay. What often happens however is that professionals continue working in both private and public. It is possible that the higher pay rates they can earn in the private sector somehow subsidises their public earnings, keeping world class surgeons here in New Zealand.

Retaining quality professionals should be top priority for maintaining the high standards of healthcare for kiwis and is one way that private health insurance can support the public health system. Another way the private sector makes a big contribution is by funding emerging technologies such as PET scanning and robotically assisted surgeries.

It would be fair to say that the system does present inequalities - only those that can afford it can get treatment faster. However, it also means that those that can afford health insurance take greater responsibility for their health and their care, alleviating the public waiting lists. By paying for around half of all elective surgical procedures in New Zealand, the private sector frees up public funding to help to those who cannot afford private health insurance.

The idea of the public sector being able to cope with all non-life-threatening treatments, whether you are against it or in favour, is nowhere close to becoming a reality. Private health insurance is helping those that can afford it stay out of public surgery waiting lists, fund new technologies and keep our surgeons here. In this light we can certainly see how private health insurance is helping, not hindering, the public sector.


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