Insurer to review premiums

Outspoken corporate advocate Bruce Sheppard has emerged as the champion of the elderly after Southern Cross was forced to announce an investigation of its premiums.

Mr Sheppard spoke at Tuesday's annual meeting, trying to force a new strategy and now his resolutions have been passed, ensuring the society has to examine ways to lower elderly members' premiums.

"The pricing of membership by Southern Cross is completely commercial but also totally unfriendly," one of Mr Sheppard's motions said. But how the society will go about lowering pricing is yet to be decided.

Graeme Hawkins, chairman of the society with more than 830,000 policy holders, said premium relief was the focus of the meeting so the society would embark on examining this.

"The society's board and management recognise the huge pressure that health insurance premiums can put on retired people on fixed incomes.

"Those members are saying that at a time in their lives when they most need healthcare, they are finding it very difficult to pay for it," he said.

Mr Sheppard said after the victory that he wanted to reward longevity, not age. He said the society should distribute about $30 million annual interest on its $334.4 million reserves, increase younger people's premiums, which were the cheapest in the sector, and investigate reverse annuity mortgages for the elderly, enabling them to draw money out of their houses to pay health premiums.

"I went to them three years ago and they said 'good idea, we'll activate it' and they did nothing. They were condescending. I will now press my case to be involved," a strident Mr Sheppard said.

Mr Hawkins said health insurance premiums rose with age because older people needed more care and claimed more, People 65-plus made up 11.6% of the society's membership but made 33% of claims for the 2011 financial year, he said.

He wants the Government to subsidise elderly people's expensive premiums, which are many thousands of dollars a year.

The society had talked to various ministers about tax rebates for them and removing fringe benefit tax from premiums paid by corporate groups, Mr Hawkins said.

But Mr Sheppard criticised this, saying the society had many other measures which must be investigated and activated because without change older people could not afford to pay.



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