Why more Australians are turning to health insurance

The statistics 

More Australians are covered by hospital & extras policies now than at any time in the past twenty years, according to the latest government statistics. 

Hospital cover grew by 228,506 while extras cover surpassed that with 304,076 new people covered over the 12 months to December 2021. That brings the total number of people covered by hospital cover to 11.6 million (45% of the population) and by extras cover to 14.1 million (55% of the population). 

And while the absolute numbers are at record highs and growing (population growth plays its part there), it is worth noting that the proportion of Australians who have hospital cover is still recovering. In 2015-16, 47% of Australians had hospital cover vs 45% in the most recent figures of December 2021. 

Why the uptick in health cover? 

The chart below from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, better known by its initials APRA, shows the upward trend in people on hospital covers in Australia. Using this graph, it becomes clear that the timing of COVID-19 correlates strongly with the rise in people on hospital covers. 


Source: APRA Quarterly private health insurance statistics - December 2021, Chart 1


Not that we should trust correlation on its own. To find out what may have caused the uptick, we need to use other sources of data such as IPSOS’ Healthcare & Insurance Australia 2021 findings. The 2021 IPSOS report shows a marked decrease in those who disagree that: 

  • private health insurance is a critical component of the Australian health care system - 23% versus 29% in 2019

And a significant increase in those who agree with the statement that 

  • private hospital insurance takes pressure off public hospitals enabling the public system to offer improved access to those in need - 73% versus 66% in 2019.

Less time waiting versus public hospitals 

To their credit, public hospitals responded remarkably well to the health threat of COVID-19. To achieve that, sacrifices had to be made and much of that came in postponed elective surgeries which now sit in an alarming public backlog. 

Some more statistics, this time from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 

  • median public hospital elective surgery waiting times rose from 39 days in 2019-20 to 48 days in 2020-21
  • patients waiting more than a year for elective surgery jumped from 2.8% to 7.6%
  • total knee replacement suffered the biggest rise in patients waiting longer than a year, rising to 32% from 11%

Here are some of the median (i.e. the middle figure as an average) waiting times for common public elective surgeries: 

  • 80+ days for a hysterectomy (up from 63+ days in 2019-20)
  • 172+ days for cataract surgery (up from 98+ days in 2019-20) 
  • 223+ to have varicose veins stripped (up from 129+ days in 2019-20) 
  • 179+ days for a total hip replacement (up from 120+ days in 2019-20) 
  • 253+ days to have tonsils removed (up from 130+ days in 2019-20) 
  • 308+ days for a total knee replacement (up from 223+ days in 2019-20)* 

And 50% of people will wait even longer than that. 


With hospital cover, you will be in for elective surgery as soon as your doctor and private hospital are ready. 

* Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Elective surgery waiting times 2020-21 data tables, Table 4.6 


Additional sources for the statistics in this article: 

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Private Health Insurance  

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Health Expenditure: Private health insurance 

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