Risking everything: how New Zealanders view risk, what they are doing about it

Insurers and government could achieve a lot more by working together

The recent government decision to boost the budget for mental health services is valuable - and perhaps counter-intuitively, is a boost for everyone who uses mental health services, including those that have private medical insurance. Medical insurers have been complaining for some time that a lack of good service providers is the main obstacle to providing more coverage for mental health issues in insurance. In the early stages of market development it is difficult to invest and create a business because of a lack of scale in demand. Substantial government expenditure can help to tempt more service providers into the market, and also help some of them reach an economically viable scale - below which the service would not exist at all.

But this is just one area, touching on a substantial issue, but there is another where everyone who buys insurance could benefit: allowing individuals better control over their medical data. The equivalent concept in financial services is open banking. The idea that the bank customer should be able to decide who receives their data, so that they can direct it, for example, to be shared with a new service provider. This erodes the great incumbency advantage of large existing businesses - ideally stimulating both new entrants and all our current banks to be more innovative in helping customers get the most out of what they do. 

The same could be done, powerfully, with health data. Not just for insurers, but the business case stacks up on that use alone. It is ironic that at the same time as MBIE includes in the insurance contract law options paper the idea that insurers should get medical information on every client, government sits on most client medical information and makes it incredibly hard to access - even when you want to access it. Imagine if you were able to long on to a government website and share all your medical data with a new service provider, your insurer, a specialist overseas, a nutritionist, the seller of your next wearable device, and your gym coach. The way this could cut costs and hassle for existing services and develop new ones could transform the health of New Zealanders. 



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