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Health fund data shows allied health is back to pre-pandemic levels

New health fund data has revealed Australians are using their ancillary benefits at pre-COVID levels, while other statistics have shown the number of optical services jumped a staggering 49% once lockdown measures lapsed across the country.

In the month of September 2020, private health insurance peak body Private Healthcare Australia (PHA) reported the number of services rebated for dental, optical, physiotherapy, chiropractic and podiatry were all at higher levels than September 2019.

This was despite lockdowns in Victoria at the time, with hundreds of optometrists unable to perform routine care until 19 October.

Rachel David.

“Even with the continuing issues in Victoria, there has been a strong bounce back for dental and allied health,” PHA CEO Dr Rachel David.

PHA’s data from its member health funds showed optical services funded by private health insurance were at 104% when comparing September 2020 with September 2019 (893,700 versus 855,600), and optical rebates were at 105% ($55.9 million versus $53 million).

For the year-to-date optical rebates were at 89% compared with the total number of rebates by this time last year. Comparatively, dental rebates – the largest category of general treatment services covered by private health insurance – were at 88% compared to this time last year. Physiotherapy rebates were at 91%, chiropractic 97% and podiatry 94%.

Meanwhile, on 17 November, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) published its latest private health insurance data for the September quarter (1 July – 30 September).

It represented the first quarter through the other side of the March to May nationwide lockdown, however it’s worth noting Victoria was plunged into its second lockdown in August.

There were 2.6 million optical services delivered during the September quarter, a 48.5% increase from the June quarter, which contained April and May – some of the toughest trading months this year for optometrists. Year-on-year, the number of September quarter optical episodes were identical.

The amount paid in optical benefits increased sharply from the June quarter to September as well, from $133 million to $196 million in the September quarter – a 47% increase.

Ophthalmic procedures also increased 46.9% in the September quarter compared with June, to 88,868 episodes.

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