Facing the wait or pay dilemma
‘‘Do you have health insurance?’’
Chilling words you never want to hear from a doctor.
They always come just before he or she tells you how long you’ll have to wait for your tests or treatment, if you don’t.
You also know when you hear those words that you are about to get a good deal poorer.
I heard those words 36 hours after taking my first ever trip in an ambulance.
An ambulance ride is not a great end to an evening, but my diagnosis tends firmly towards viral, rather than dodgy ticker.
But just to be on the safe side, my GP recommended some heart treadmill tests.
Unless I used my insurance, he reckoned I’d be waiting many, many months for my time on the treadmill, maybe as long as a year.
And so here is the choice I face: Do I wait for a date on the state system? Or, do I use my health insurance to jump the queue?
It’s a moral dilemma as well as a financial one.
The majority of health insurance policies have fairly high co-payments (the share of treatment/procedure costs paid
Consider health insurance But save for health emergencies too
Think about long-termaffordability
by the patient), or excesses (people often opt for even higher ones to keep monthly premiums down).
Claims can leave policyholders facing bills in the high hundreds to low thousands of dollars.
Except for accidents, New Zealand has a two-tier health care system.
There’s the state system, which has helped Kiwis live long and healthy lives.
And there’s the private system, funded largely by health insurance, which lets higher income folk go private to get ‘‘elective’’ tests and operations done faster than on the state system.
Elective means a procedure that does not have to be performed immediately.
State waiting lists can result in people having to put up with discomfort and pain for months, or in my case, lingering uncertainty.
Health insurance is most commonly held by higher-income, working age people.
Wealth counts when it comes to health.
There are around 1.37 million people with queue-jumping health insurance, which may help explain why state waiting lists aren’t more of a national scandal.
Health insurance policyholders need savings to dig into when they make big claims because of the excesses/copayments expected of them.
‘‘Wealth counts when it comes to health.’’
When a doctor asks if you have health insurance, you, the patient, know you are facing a ‘‘wait or pay’’ decision.
The option you choose will depend on your sense of urgency (pain, worry, etc), and whether you have the money to make the payment, or need/want the money for other things.
This is why people with health insurance need savings too.
There’s another reason for policyholders to be saving.
The older you are, the higher the premiums get, so many people let their policies lapse when they stop work.
To be able to keep up their insurance after they retire, people have to amass enough wealth to be able to continue to afford the premiums.
If that’s not possible, policyholders just have to accept health insurance is something to help you to stay well while working.
Elective surgery can be expensive, even if you have health insurance.