More Hongkongers taking out medical insurance policies, survey finds

Hong Kong Federation of Insurers says ageing population, rising medical costs contribute to uptick

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 7:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 June, 2017, 7:18pm

More Hongkongers are buying medical insurance policies, with the city seeing a 300,000 increase as the population ages, and medical costs rise, according to insurers.

The latest statistics from the Hong Kong Federation of Insurers showed that the number of those with private or group medical insurance policies reached 4.4 million in 2016, compared with 4.1 million a year earlier.

The amount of insurance claims made in 2016 also grew by HK$1 billion to HK$13.9 billion, the group said.

“As the population ages, people are questioning who will pay for their medical costs in the future,” said Elaine Chan Sau-ho, deputy chairwoman of the federation’s task force on health reform.

“The prices of medical services are also growing. These [factors] have contributed to a greater acceptance of medical insurance.”

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But people in Hong Kong are forking out more for insurance premiums and their own medical bills because they prefer to get treatment in private wards, rather than day care centres, according to industry experts.

Medical insurance premiums for individual and group plans grew at an annual 5.9 per cent and 4.6 per cent respectively over the past five years, the federation said.

Chan added that this pace of increase could be slowed if more people opt to undergo simple procedures such as gastroscopy and colonoscopy at day care centres instead of private hospitals.

A survey for 16 major medical insurance underwriters found that 75 per cent of colonoscopy patients in 2015 decided to do the procedure at a hospital.

It costs HK$25,400 on average to have the procedure and stay in a standard ward, three times as much as the HK$8,408 charged at day care centres.

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The survey also showed that patients at a ward were offered a lower reimbursement rate of 84 per cent, as compared with their day care surgery counterparts, who enjoy a 91 per cent rate.

“Most people don’t like to stay in a hospital,” Chan said. “They should know that day care centres may be a better option if their health condition allows for it.”

Doctors should also make the last call on whether the patient needs to be admitted to a ward for such treatment, she added.

The rising insurance premiums also reflected increases in the city’s health care costs, the federation said.

The cost of claims for inpatient services on average grew about 6 to 13 per cent in 2015, while that of day care surgical procedures climbed by 6 per cent.

To handle the growing demand for private medical insurance, Hong Kong insurers have hired more staff and rolled out new products, Chan said, explaining that the larger customer base meant that they could provide plans catering to specific demographic groups or disease types.