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Southern Cross Electoral Process Challenged

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

A Southern Cross member vying for a directorship and calling for the health insurer to investigate more cost-effective medical services overseas is upset at the insurer's electoral process.

Kerikeri man Robert Sintes, a former commercial pilot, property developer and most recently intellectual property researcher, is one of three candidates vying for two vacancies on the Southern Cross board at its upcoming annual meeting on 25 November.

Ultimately, he says, he is standing to ensure member representation on the board.

Mr Sintes is concerned about rising premiums and is advocating a number of measures including an independent review of more cost-effective medical services overseas.

Not a level playing field

However, since putting his name forward, Mr Sintes has been gobsmacked to find in election information sent to policyholders that the health insurer has put its support behind the other two candidates - Phillip Meyer and Keith Taylor.

"It's not a level playing field," Mr Sintes says.

He says he has no ability to counteract the board's support for Mr Meyer and Mr Taylor, whom Southern Cross says have the skills and experience needed.

Mr Meyer, an experienced company director and investment banker, is a current director who is standing down on rotation, while Mr Taylor, a chief executive, chief financial officer and actuary, has extensive experience in the insurance and financial industries.

Call for review of cost-effective medical services overseas

Mr Sintes says, in his opinion, Southern Cross is the best insurer - he's been a member for 35 years and he wants to "put my money where my mouth is".

But his concerns centre on how unintentionally the insurer has aligned itself with the very people it employs - the medical profession - to the extent where the "buyer-seller relationship" is now reflected in ever-increasing premiums, he says.

"Southern Cross needs a 'mainstream member' of the society as one of its directors to more effectively represent the views of its core membership, whose interests in my view are often 'lost' within the existing board structure, so closely tied as it is to the medical profession in New Zealand."

He questions why, in some parts of the country, it costs significantly more to have procedures carried out than in other areas.

He cites an example of an eye surgeon admitting to earning $15,000 dollars an hour in New Zealand as being the type of "cash cow by vested interests" that he wants to get rid of, even if it means flying in cheaper foreign surgeons to perform operations or sending policyholders overseas for treatment.

Claims fair electoral process followed

Southern Cross Medical Care Society chair Graeme Hawkins says in a statement it has processes in place to achieve an optimal mix of skills and experience on its board.

This includes a rigorous selection process conducted with the assistance of professional external agencies.

While the society is a not-for-profit mutual organisation, it is also a significant commercial enterprise with annual revenues of around $600 million.

Because one of the current directors is retiring this year, the board went through a recruitment process to identify someone with actuarial and insurance industry experience to replace him and this is the nomination of Mr Taylor.

"Mr Sintes may indeed have some very strong attributes for the role of director, but these have not been tested through the board's recruitment process," Mr Hawkins says.

Issues around overseas healthcare services

As for the idea of funding a greater range of overseas healthcare services, Southern Cross says it is something that has been considered by the society's management.

However, it has not been actively pursued because of a range of issues including registration and certification requirements of overseas doctors travelling to New Zealand and issues relating to medical complications that might arise overseas.

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