As kiwis, are we prepared to wait 2 years for breast reconstruction surgery?

It's a startling title, but for good reason.

An industry colleague emailed me this article today from the Otago Daily Times.
It highlights the plight of Dunedin Woman, Andrea Macnee (age 33) "who had a mastectomy more than two years ago" and is still waiting for her much needed and entitled reconstruction surgery.

The thing is, I come across this kind of news all the time, and for a range of differing conditions. Just last year a friend, (and now client of mine) without Health Insurance was forced to wait 4 months for hernia repair surgery. He suffered immense pain during this time as his job involved a full day of walking around.

New Zealand is a developed country, our government is claiming continual economic growth. Is it acceptable that the public health system is unable to manage the seemingly growing waiting lists?
Perhaps not, but with the increasingly aging population (and their associated medical needs), many are beginning to question whether the public system can actually sustain the growing pressure.

This treasury article from 2010 highlights one of the key challenges:

In dollars per person, the amount spent by the government has risen from $550 per person in 1950 to $2,870 per person in 2009 (both in 2009 dollars). Health spending per person has grown faster than GDP per person, in real terms, over this period.

And then we come to the matter of private health insurance.

When I raise the notion to clients, I'm often asked questions along the lines of "But isn't that expensive?", but when I respond with "How much is expensive?" - I rarely get more than "um, I dunno! You tell me!"

Okay, so how much is health insurance? I ran some quick numbers for the purpose of this article:

  • 33 year old Andrea Macnee would have been paying a fortnightly cost of around $24.00 for a policy that would cover her breast reconstruction surgery (a procedure that can cost upwards of $20,000).
  • For my client in his mid 20's, his fortnightly cost of cover would have been around $20.00 per fortnight for a policy that would pay for hernia repair (a procedure that can cost upwards of $5,400).

It's also important to note that both of these prices were with a $0.00 excess and opting for a policy excess can reduce cost.

For my wife and I, it's not worth the risk to rely on the public health system for these types of procedures.
New Zealand provides excellent healthcare, but unless your condition is acute - you may be waiting a long time before your much needed treatment is seen to.

Do you have a personal story as to how private health insurance has enabled you access treatment quickly and avoid waiting in a queue?
If so, I invite you to encourage us by sharing it in the comments below!

Thank-you for reading

Samuel Rees-Thomas