When you take out a health insurance policy, there will almost always be waiting periods. Waiting periods are periods of time set by the insurer before you can make any claims, and you need to serve these waiting periods when you sign up to a new health fund in most cases.
Waiting periods exist to protect the insurer from people trying to take advantage of the system – for example, in the case of someone with known back problems joining a new fund, immediately claiming as much as they can on physiotherapy and then leaving.
There are some select ways it might be possible to avoid waiting periods on health insurance, and we’ll go through them below. It’s worth remembering that waiting periods are one element to take into account when considering your options, and shouldn’t be viewed in isolation.
The table below displays a snapshot of 5-Star hospital & extras policies on Canstar’s database with links to providers’ websites, sorted by provider name (alphabetically). Please note the results are based on a couple aged under 35 in NSW, with no pregnancy cover.
Do waiting periods carry over when you switch providers?
This depends on the type of policy you’re switching to.
If you decide to switch to a policy from a different provider that has either the same, similar or lower level of cover, then you will typically not have to reserve the waiting periods you’ve already served. This is commonly known in the industry as ‘portability’ and can be useful for people looking to switch health insurers to get more suitable cover.
This doesn’t usually apply to people switching to a provider on a higher level of cover though. While the waiting periods might not carry over on the inclusions that have remained at a similar level, the parts of your new policy that are upgraded from your old cover will likely require you to start the required waiting periods over again.
Special offers for waiving waiting periods
Some health insurers offer special bonuses to new customers to entice them to join over other funds. Around 13.5 million Australians have private health insurance according to Private Healthcare Australia, leaving a significant market for potential customers.
Often, these special deals involve waiving waiting periods for certain treatments and conditions. Typically, two to six month periods are waived, and it is extremely rare to see a provider waive longer waiting periods than this. Out of the 21 health insurers we rate, three of them offer these types of deals at the time of writing. Canstar compiles monthly summaries of these types of special deals offered by health insurers on the market that we rate. You can see all of them here.
These deals can be common around March-April, as this is the time health insurers typically increase their premiums, so you may see more of them over this period. However, please remember these offers are specifically meant to entice new customers and as such can have pretty stringent terms and conditions. Make sure you read them and understand that it may not be worth switching just to waive a waiting period.
How long are waiting periods?
According to the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman, the Private Health Insurance Act 2007 set the following maximum waiting periods that insurers can apply for hospital cover:
- 12 months for pre-existing conditions
- 12 months for obstetrics (pregnancy)
- 2 months for psychiatric care, rehabilitation and palliative care
- 2 months for everything else
The waiting periods for extras or ancillary cover can be set by the individual insurers, and as such aren’t subject to the same laws. This means they can vary a lot, but Canstar has summarised these waiting periods into the following:
|Monthly Waiting Periods Applied To Health Insurance|
|Source: Canstar Health Insurance Database, March 2017.|
You can see here there are some providers out there with no waiting periods for certain treatments like psychology and massages, while other services like dental and hearing aids can have waiting periods of more than a year. There are dozens of health insurance providers out there, so it can be worthwhile to look around and see which ones best suit your needs.