Switching Health Insurance

Find out more about the process of switching your health insurance policy and how to compare them with Savvy.

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, updated on July 10th, 2023       

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Health insurance is a highly competitive business in Australia with more than 30 health funds vying for your business. Every month health funds come up with new ways to attract customers, which is great news for Aussies looking to switch health insurers. Find out all about how you can switch your health insurance policy and how to compare offers on the market right here in Savvy's guide.

How do I switch my health insurance?

Switching health insurance funds is a simple process that usually only takes a few minutes and can be completed on the same day. You won’t be left uninsured during the change-over period and, in many cases, you won’t have to re-serve waiting periods to make a claim (as long as you buy another policy at an equal or lower level to your previous cover).

However, if you choose to increase your level of cover, you may have to serve new waiting periods (for those categories of cover you haven’t had previously). For example, if you choose to increase your cover from a bronze hospital policy to a silver one, you may have to serve additional waiting periods for the extra 18 clinical categories that you weren’t covered for previously.

The process for switching through Savvy is as follows:

  • Answer a few simple questions about the health insurance you are looking for
  • Receive multiple quotes online to compare policies from some of the top private health insurers in Australia
  • Decide which policy looks the best or ask for a call-back from a health insurance specialist to help you make your choice
  • Complete the application form for your chosen provider and arrange payment for your first premium
  • Receive a call-back from your specialist to assist you to fill in your health fund transfer form, and to make sure your switch goes smoothly

How do I compare health insurance policies if I want to make the switch?

There are two main types of health insurance in Australia: hospital cover and extras cover (as well as policies that combine both types of cover).

There are different aspects to compare depending on which type of health cover you’re after.

Hospital cover

Hospital cover can provide coverage for treatments in a hospital setting as a private in-patient. Such areas can include:

  • Consultation fees to see your doctor and anaesthetist
  • The costs associated with a shared and private hospital room (subject to availability, eligibility and your policy’s terms and conditions)
  • Additional costs associated with surgery (such as theatre fees)
  • Tests administered as part of your treatment whilst an in-patient (such as blood tests, CT scans and x-rays)
  • Allied health services such as pain management or psychology
  • Ambulance cover*

*Not included under all hospital cover insurance policies. Ambulance cover differs between states and territories, with some residents receiving free cover either within their state or nationally.

Standard waiting periods for hospital cover

These are the standard maximum waiting periods for hospital cover as determined by the Commonwealth Government:

  • 12 months for pre-existing conditions
  • 12 months for pregnancy and obstetrics services
  • 2 months for psychiatric care, palliative care and rehabilitation services
  • 2 months for all other services

If you’re looking at switching your health insurance, these are the elements of hospital cover you may wish to consider when comparing policies:

  • Which tier do I need? Hospital cover comes in four different tiers or levels of cover: basic, bronze, silver and gold. The clinical categories of medical treatment that are offered at each level are regulated by the Australian Government. A basic policy will only offer cover for three categories, whereas a gold policy covers all categories of treatment available.
  • What level of cover can I afford? The cost of hospital cover increases with the level of cover you choose. For example, a bronze policy will cost less than a gold tier one but will also offer less coverage. Once you determine the level of cover you’re after, compare policies side-by-side to see which is the most affordable while offering the covered areas you’re looking for.
  • Will my pre-existing health conditions be covered? There may be little point in switching health policies if you don’t end up with cover for conditions you know you may need treatment for. As an example, if you have a pre-existing condition such as a back injury which may require surgery in the future, hospital cover for back, neck and spinal injuries is only offered through silver and gold policies.
  • Excess and co-payments – an excess is an amount you may have to pay if you need to make a claim on your policy. The excess you agree to can affect the cost of your policy and can range from zero up to a maximum of $750. Similarly, a co-payment may be required as a contribution to your stay in hospital, but this won’t always be the case.

Extras cover

Extras cover can allow you to claim back a percentage of the cost of treatments and services you receive out of hospital. It offers cover for many treatments which aren't covered by Medicare, such as dental and optical. However, it can also help with the cost of treatments such as:

  • Physiotherapy 
  • Chiropractic treatments 
  • Hearing aids 
  • Podiatry 
  • Speech therapy 
  • Remedial massage 
  • Psychology 
  • Dietetics 
  • Holiday vaccinations 
  • Non-PBS medications (prescriptions which aren’t subsidised by Medicare)

Areas to compare with extras cover policies

The coverage offered with an extras policy is less tightly regulated than with hospital cover. Some health funds offer a range of three to five different policies, ranging from cheap and basic to more comprehensive cover. Here’s how to compare them:

  • Coverage – think about which services you use regularly and try to make sure the policy you choose provides cover for that specialty. For example, if you regularly require chiropractic treatment to assist with a back injury, make sure the policy offers the maximum benefits for chiropractic treatment.
  • Benefits – the cheapest health cover for extras may only cover 50% of the cost charged for treatment, whereas a more expensive policy may cover up to 85% of the cost. Some health funds offer no-cost basic dental check-ups where 100% of the cost is covered, through their network of partnered businesses.
  • Policy annual limits – most health policies come with annual limits which define how much you can claim for each category of cover. For example, while a cheaper policy may offer a $500 annual limit for major dental, a more expensive policy may allow $3,000 for this type of treatment.
  • Additional extras – many health insurance providers offer additional benefits to attract new customers thinking of switching their health cover. These can range from a telehealth phone line where you can talk to a nurse 24/7 to free programs to help with weight loss, managing diabetes and caring for your mental health. Such additional programs are offered by many health funds, especially not-for-profit providers.

Waiting periods for extras cover

Waiting periods also aren’t as tightly regulated, meaning they can vary depending on the insurer and policy. Some examples of waiting periods for certain extras include:

  • Two months for physiotherapy, general dental and the majority of extras services. 
  • Six months for optical. This includes optical benefits such as glasses and contact lenses.  
  • 12 months for major dental work and orthotics.
  • 12 months for hearing aids and orthodontics

Are there special offers available if I want to switch health funds?

Because there are more than 30 health insurance companies in Australia, competition is fierce to attract new customers. If you’re thinking of switching your health insurance, you’ll find there are often many special offers available, including: 

  • waived waiting periods on extras cover policies
  • free weeks of cover
  • discounted movie tickets
  • loyalty programs and more

By comparing a panel of health providers through Savvy, you’ll be able to see the latest special offers available and compare their benefits. Because our comparison service is free, you can come back and check out the latest deals available any time you want. There’s no obligation to buy, and you may just find a bargain which suits your lifestyle and health needs perfectly.

Frequently asked questions about switching health funds

What happens to my annual extras benefit limits if I change funds?

You may be able to take your unused annual benefit limits with you to your new fund. When you switch health funds, you’ll need to fill in an interfund transfer form. This tells your existing provider you’re switching funds and gives permission for them to tell your new fund what benefit limits you’ve used so far that year. They'll provide your new fund with a transfer certificate giving details of your type of policy, level of cover, waiting periods served and claim history. Most health insurance providers will require you to carry over your claims history to your new fund. However, all funds differ, so carefully read the Private Health Information Statement that must be supplied to you with your new policy.

Is there a cooling-off period when I switch health funds?

Yes – health providers generally offer a 30-day cooling-off period, so if you change your mind about switching funds, you can ask for a refund within that timeframe (provided you haven’t made any claims on your new policy).

Are there age discounts which apply if I switch health funds?

If you're under 30 when you purchase your first hospital policy, you may be entitled to a 2% discount on your premiums for each year you’re covered under 30, capped at a 10% discount. If you don’t get health insurance before your 31st birthday, you may have to pay a Lifetime Health Cover (LHC) loading on your premiums, in addition to potentially having to pay the Medicare Levy Surcharge while you're without hospital cover. While LHC loading will carry over between policies and insurers, you should check with your new insurer to determine whether your current age-based discount applies to the policy you’re looking to switch to.

Will I get a refund from my old health fund if I have paid my health insurance in advance?

If you’ve paid your health insurance in advance and decide to switch funds, your old health insurance provider may refund you any unused portion of your premiums.

How can I find out how much private health insurance rebate I'm entitled to?

You can use a health rebate calculator to find out how much Medicare Levy you should pay, and how much private health insurance rebate you may be entitled to. 

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Disclaimer:

Savvy is partnered with Compare Club Australia Pty Ltd (AFS representative number 001279036) of Alternative Media Pty Ltd (AFS License number 486326) to provide readers with a variety of health insurance policies to compare. Savvy earns a commission from Compare Club each time a customer buys a health insurance policy via our website. We don’t arrange for products to be purchased from these brands directly, as all purchases are conducted via Compare Club.

Savvy’s comparison service is provided by Compare Club. Compare Club compares selected products from a panel of trusted insurers and does not compare all products in the market.

Any advice presented above or on other pages is general in nature and doesn’t consider your personal or business objectives, needs or finances. It’s always important to consider whether advice is suitable for you before purchasing an insurance policy.

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