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Navigating health insurance can be mind-boggling. There’s a vast array of policies out there, offering cover on a range of potential health scenarios. Many people simply opt for hospital cover to avoid paying the Medicare levy, while others pay for extras without knowing exactly what they’re covered for.
Extras are non-hospital treatments. The most common extras policies cover costs associated with optical, dental and physiotherapy treatments, but – depending on your policy – they can also cover treatments such as osteo, acupuncture, psychology, naturopathy and more.
As a general rule, it’s important that your health insurance policy suits your individual health needs or those of your family. This means as your personal and family situation changes, you should reassess your health cover.
“We see a lot of older people who are still insured for pregnancy, and we speak to younger people who have insurance for things like cataract surgery, which they obviously aren’t very likely to need,” explains Danielle O'Reilly, from our Health Insurance team at iSelect.
“And then, of course, there are people who have not upgraded their policies to reflect the fact that they’ve now got kids to add to the policy, or that the kids have left home and are no longer insured on the policy.”
When it comes to choosing extras, consider what services you’re likely to use and make sure you’re covered for those. Someone who plays sport might consider physiotherapy important, while for people with kids, orthodontics may be a priority. If you’re a family and three of you wear glasses, then you should be looking at health insurance policies that have generous per-person optical benefits.
It’s really about looking at the different types of extras available and considering which ones are important at your current stage in life, and which ones can be left off for now.
"Looking at the different types of extras available rather than seeing them as one big chunk is the best approach," says Danielle.
With an enormous variety of policies out there, it can be overwhelming trying to pick the most suitable one for your needs. This is where speaking to an expert can help you identify what extras you need for your circumstances. They may ask you questions such as whether you play sport, whether you’ve got kids or are planning a family, and more.
Another approach, if you are already insured, is to look at what services you’ve been using. Ask your existing fund for a claims statement. It will provide you with detailed information about your claims activities.
"Then you’ll be able to go through the last year and say, ‘Okay, I’ve actually been paying for these services and I haven’t used them, whereas I used up all my limit for these other services, or I could have done with these services I’m not insured for,’” says Danielle. "You can make an informed decision with the information in front of you."
“I would say dental is a must-have for everyone because no one can tell when a dental issue is going to arise,” says Danielle. “A dental emergency can happen when you least expect it.” Bear in mind that orthodontics is generally a separate and more costly extra and is something you can usually plan for in advance.
Of the other common extras on offer, optical can become essential over time, but others really do depend on your lifestyle – some people would consider physiotherapy essential, while others wouldn’t.
Some people don’t know what extras they’re paying for on their policy. You may be covered for things like weight loss programs or swimming lessons, or to give up smoking. There are even some preventative policies that give you cash back towards sunscreen and hats – but if you don’t know they’re covered by your policy, you won’t know to make a claim when you do those health-positive things.
“If you are paying for extras, make sure you find out what your policy actually can enable you to claim and then get the most out of it,” says Danielle.
Most extras policies offer a set percentage back up to an annual dollar limit (for example, 70% of the cost back, up to $200 per year). Generally, the more expensive the policy, the higher the percentage you get back.
Extras can mean cover for so much more than most people expect – some of these products can be a welcome surprise, and others can be simply unnecessary. Undertaking regular research and seeking advice can help you get the extras most suited to your current life stage and needs.