7 Dec 2011

Southern Cross to investigate how to reward loyal members

7:04 am on 7 December 2011

Southern Cross Healthcare will investigate how it can reward loyal and long-serving members.

The private healthcare insurer's hand was forced at its annual meeting on Tuesday, when the mainly retired members attending voted in favour of the resolution put forward by Auckland accountant, Bruce Sheppard.

Mr Sheppard, a former chairman of the New Zealand Shareholders' Association, says income from Southern Cross's reserves could be used to reduce loyal members' premiums.

He says part of the attraction for young members is the belief that Southern Cross will deliver to them, for the whole of their lives, affordable healthcare and security.

Mr Sheppard says the sad reality is the company is not doing that now for people aged over 65 and that example won't be lost on younger members.

But chairman Graeme Hawkins says any reduction in loyal or long-serving members' premiums would result in increases in premiums for younger members.

He says the board is happy to undertake an investigation because it will inform all members of some of the wider issues that need to be taken into account.

Another member asked for Southern Cross to look at ways for its assets to be distributed to members, in the event the society is dissolved.

As a friendly society, the organisation would distribute its assets to various charities.

Mr Hawkins says the most obvious alternative is for Southern Cross to demutualise, and become a company, but that raises issues of paying tax and dividends and would inevitably mean that premiums would rise.

"From our point of view the question of the ownership of reserves is a different question from what would be a demutualisation. The indication we got from today's meeting is that that issue is not clear cut by any means", he says.

Mr Hawkins says the result of members' votes on the matter will be known by Thursday.