NIB fails to keep all customers happy

HUNTER-based private health insurer NIB has received twice the number of complaints of its nearest competitor.

Data from the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman shows that while NIB (with 7.5 per cent of national market share) received 165 complaints in the 2011-2012 year, HBF insurance (with 7.7 per cent of market share) received just 87.

The contrast is even more stark when disputes (a serious level of complaint) are considered.

NIB had 40 disputes lodged with the ombudsman's office compared with 12 from HBF.

In three out of four of the ombudsman's most recent quarterly reports, the proportion of NIB complaints outstripped its market share.

NIB is the fifth largest private health insurance company in Australia and is regularly fourth on the complaint list behind Bupa, Medibank Private and HCF.

Most of the complaints related to restrictions and exclusions, waiting periods and oral information.

The company said it had recognised it could improve its customer service and had appointed a special chief customer officer.

It was also instituting a customer-focused approach across the entire company.

The company has more than 900,000 customers.

NIB chief executive officer Mark Fitzgibbon said many of the complaints were related to exclusions.

He said the company worked hard to create affordable products and the challenge was communicating to customers what treatments were excluded.

"People like the idea of not paying for insurance cover they do not need," he said.

"We've got to make it clear to the person they're buying a product that doesn't cover everything."

He said customer satisfaction ratings were generally good but conceded there was more work to be done.

"The greatest thing we can do for a customer is have the right product.

"We're trying to shift the business to what does the customer want."

The insurer also reportedly has a poor reputation among doctors for its policies.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the company deliberately took a tough stance with medicos to stop prices being forced up.

The Private Health Insurance Ombudsman Samantha Gavel said the main three areas of complaint about private health insurers in 2011-2012 were oral information, restrictions and exclusions and waiting periods on pre-existing conditions.

Ms Gavel said consumers got the best outcomes when armed with information.

"There is demand from consumers for more affordable policies, particularly from younger people."

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