We’re all aware that New Zealand’s public health system is often under strain. Its problems confront us regularly in news stories, as we read about staff shortages and waiting lists for surgeries. These challenges have been even greater during the Covid years. So what can you do to protect yourself from the vulnerabilities of local health boards and get the treatment or surgery you need?


It’s wonderful to have a free public health system that deals quickly with acute medical needs, as well as an accident insurance scheme (ACC) that covers medical costs for accident injury. But if your problem isn’t acute or caused by an accident, you could be in for a long wait before you get the help you need.

For example, at the end of 2020 New Zealand’s largest health board – ADHB – quoted these wait times for common elective procedures.

Surgery – Average wait time

  • Knee surgeries: 200 days
  • Hip surgeries: 169 days
  • Hysterectomy: 61 days

Maybe you’re thinking that waiting for non-acute surgery is OK. But looking at the numbers above, you might face a wait of 200 days before you get knee surgery. That equates to 28 weeks of waiting. During that time it’s likely you’ll be taking pain relief every day, possibly getting steroid injections to control inflammation and limiting yourself to non-impact activities. No doubt about it, a long wait usually means a long period of discomfort or pain, as well as a compromised lifestyle.

What about delays to cancer surgery?

Even cancer treatments are delayed when the health system is under pressure. In July 2022, Te Aho o Te Kahu (Cancer Control Agency) reported that in April 2022, there were 6% fewer cancer surgeries (prostate, lung and colorectal) compared to April 2018/19. For 2022 to date there were 3% fewer surgeries performed compared to 2018/19.

What are the most common health insurance claims in NZ?

When you’re considering getting private health insurance, aka medical insurance, it’s helpful to know what Kiwis claim for the most. New Zealand’s biggest health insurer lists these procedures as top for claims:

  • Hip replacement
  • Chemotherapy
  • Knee replacement
  • Spinal fusion surgery
  • Colonoscopy
  • Skin lesion removal
  • Hysterectomy
  • Endometriosis surgery
  • MRI scan
  • Cataract surgery
  • Tonsillectomy
  • inguinal hernia repair
  • Adenoidectomy
  • Coronary angioplasty with stents
  • Surgical removal of teeth
  • Bilateral ear procedure

Having health insurance gives you choices

The number one reason for getting health insurance in New Zealand is having choices about your own health. When you’re at the mercy of the public health system, you have no power over when you get the surgery, diagnostic screening or treatment you need, where it happens and who will do the procedure. When you have health insurance, you get to decide all these things. However, not all health insurance is created equal. That’s why working with Apex Advice is a smart thing to do. We work with multiple providers, so can help you to make a selection based on your needs and budget.

[1] https://www.adhb.health.nz/assets/Documents/OIA/2020/12-2020/Wait-times-of-patients.pdf 
[2] COVID_19_and_cancer_report_April_2022_FINAL_751baf86aa.pdf (windows.net)
[3] https://www.southerncross.co.nz/group/news/2020/most-common-health-insurance-claims