Mark Sainsbury: Private health insurance is ruining the public system

Southern Cross cancer insurance (Getty) hospital health care

OPINION: Health insurer Southern Cross has put introduced a new arsenal into the healthcare market - they are offering an insurance policy to cover cancer drugs not funded by Pharmac.

Cancer Assist is an add-on to existing policies which will pay a lump sum of between $20,000 and $300,000 for treatment of "qualifying" cancers. Southern Cross says the product is a response to increased demand from cancer patients wanting to access new, costly therapies.

I have to say this disturbs me in principle. I used to have medical insurance when our kids were young but I had a big issue with it. I believe that the more people take out private health insurance the less incentive there is for the Government to maintain the public health system.

It reflects our lack of faith in the system that such a large number of New Zealanders feel the need to cover themselves privately. This is not for travel - this is to cover yourself in our own country, one that supposedly boasts a public health system.

The more we encourage private medical care the more those resources will be diverted away from the public system. It reinforces the view that the system is failing us. And Southern Cross' new cancer policy does the same thing.

It's saying you can't rely on the public health system to look after you, you need to look after yourself and that means only those with the means to pay for private insurance will have access to the unfunded drugs that could save your life.

That seems so unfair. We all would do anything to protect our own - who would deny our kids something that could save their lives? What has happened to the system that's supposed to look after us?

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.