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Health insurance for empty-nesters

Have your kids recently flown the nest? Find out what this means for your health insurance.

Once your children have grown into adults and left home to pursue their dreams and ambitions, it’s time to start putting yourself first in all aspects of your life, and that includes health insurance. With no more need to maintain a family policy, now's the perfect time to reassess your cover and work out whether your health insurance is still right for you.

Compare the policies offered by 30+ Australian health funds

How do my health insurance needs change once my kids leave home?

After spending the last 20 or so years looking after all of your children's needs, they are now financially independent and can look after themselves. With this in mind, it’s important to realise that your health insurance priorities have now shifted, with previously essential benefits, such as gap-free dental services for kids and affordable cover for the whole family, no longer being necessary. Instead, you need to reassess your lifestyle and health requirements to determine the type of cover you need. Not only will you want to ensure that you have sufficient financial protection for the increased health risks you face as you age, but you’ll also want extras cover that satisfies your unique everyday health needs.

You may find yourself in a situation where you want to keep providing health insurance cover for your kids, such as if they’re full-time students and still financially dependent on you. If this is the case, it is possible to keep your kids on your family policy until they turn 25, at which time they must go out and get their own cover.

What medical services can I drop from my cover?

Now that the kids have left home and you’ve reached a certain age, there are certain medical services and treatments you probably will no longer need on your hospital or extras policies, such as:

  • Extras cover
    • Orthodontics
    • Any benefit you're unlikely to use such as alternate therapies
Of course, the services and treatments you choose to add or remove will vary depending on your personal circumstances, so consider your health insurance needs before adding or dropping anything from your current policy.

What sort of medical services should I consider adding?

At the same time, you should think about including some cover options that may become necessary as you get older. Some of these include:

  • Hospital cover
    • Heart disease
    • Eye surgery
    • Joint investigations
    • Joint reconstruction
    • Stroke treatments
    • Prostheses
    • Non-cosmetic eye surgery
  • Extras cover
    • Major dental
    • Optical
    • Hearing aids
    • Dialysis
    • Physiotherapy
    • Pharmacy
    • Home nursing
As mentioned above, your health needs will differ from other people's, and some of these suggestions won't apply to you. Always tailor your health insurance cover around your specific health requirements.

Will I get penalised for switching health funds or upgrading my existing policy?

One important issue to consider when switching health funds or adding extra features to your policy is that waiting periods may apply. However, there are several factors that determine the length of waiting time, or whether you have to serve any at all.

  • If you are switching to an equivalent or lower level of cover with another health fund, you shouldn’t have to worry about serving any waiting periods.
  • If you are switching to a new health fund and taking out a higher level of cover, you will have to serve additional waiting periods.
  • If you are adding extra benefits to your existing insurance, or upgrading your level of cover while staying with the same health fund, it will depend on the health fund's policy guidelines. While some funds will require you to serve all the waiting periods that apply, other funds will only impose waiting periods on the additional cover you include in your policy.

It's always important to read the fine print before switching or upgrading so that you know how your cover will be affected. If you are still unsure about the process or can't find the relevant information in your policy statement or member handbook, it's best to contact your health fund directly.

Are there any non-medical benefits to look out for?

Most Australian health funds offer a wide range of health and lifestyle benefits on top of the medical services they cover. This offers added value for members and allows you to enjoy a higher level and broader range of health care services. Most of these are available in extras policies, and can include:

  • Skin cancer screenings
  • Quit smoking programs
  • Yoga and pilates classes
  • Personal training sessions
  • Benefits for gym memberships
  • Health assessments
  • Exercise physiologist appointments
  • Chronic disease management programs
  • Weight loss and weight management programs
  • Discounts on health services such as optical and dental

To retirement and beyond

Just as your health insurance priorities change when the kids leave home, so too do they shift once again when you retire. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that you are exposed to an increasing number of health risks and illnesses as you grow older, so you will need to consider shifting to a policy that covers you for a wider range of medical treatments and services, including:

  • Intensive care
  • Palliative care
  • Organ transplant
  • Major eye surgery
  • Joint replacements
  • Ambulance
  • Hearing aids
  • Physiotherapy
  • X-rays and pathology
  • Cardiothoracic treatment

The good news is that although you may require a more comprehensive, and therefore more expensive, health insurance policy as you age, once you retire you can access increased rebates on the cost of private health insurance from the Australian Government. The health insurance rebate increases as you age, and is targeted specifically for older Australians on lower incomes. This helps make health insurance for empty-nesters and affordable option, and it’s something every Australian should consider as they reach their retirement years.

Compare health insurance for empty-nesters online or with the aid of an adviser

Picture: Shutterstock

Richard Laycock

Richard is the senior insurance writer at finder.com.au and is on a mission to make insurance easier to understand.

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