Bad Backs Top List of Southern Cross Surgery Claims


Surgery for bad backs has topped the list of most expensive surgical claims funded by Southern Cross Health Insurance in the year to 30 June 2021, with the highest individual claim coming to $222,000.

Eight of the top 10 most expensive claims paid by the health insurer were for spinal fusions – surgery which permanently connects two or more vertebrae in the spine – with four claims topping a whopping $200,000.

Southern Cross Chief Medical Officer, Stephen Child, says the expense and volume of these claims demonstrate the value and benefits of health insurance.

The next two most expensive claims were for radical neck dissection surgery, which involves the removal of cancerous tumours, with each claim totalling more than $150,000.

“Spinal fusion surgery is a very serious procedure that’s typically performed by an orthopaedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon,” says Child.

“Often it involves the implantation of extensive metalware and artificial bone, which results in additional cost and expense.”

Dr Stephen Child
Dr Stephen Child, Chief Medical Officer, Southern Cross.

For the year ended 30 June 2021, Southern Cross paid more than three million claims valued at $1.12 billion.

When looking at the most common claims, the highest by volume was cryotherapy procedures (34,000 individual claims), followed by excisions of skin lesions (31,000) and minor surgery performed by a GP (26,000).

Cryotherapy breaks down skin lesions or skin abnormalities at the site through freezing. A skin excision procedure involves the cutting of abnormal tissue away from healthy tissue.

Colonoscopies, which look for signs of bowel cancer and investigate causes of pain, bleeding or changed bowel habits, were the fourth most commonly-funded procedure, with 23,000 claims paid by Southern Cross.

“Given the high incidence of skin cancer in New Zealand, it isn’t surprising skin lesion removal is one of the most common procedures we fund,” Child said.

 Top 10 most expensive individual claims in FY21

Procedure Total paid
Spinal Fusion $222,000
Spinal Fusion $210,000
Spinal Fusion $201,000
Spinal Fusion $200,000
Spinal Fusion $179,000
Spinal fusion $175,000
Radical Neck Dissection $170,000
Radical Neck Dissection $156,000
Spinal Fusion $156,000
Spinal Fusion $153,000


Top 10 procedures by volume in FY21

Procedure Description Number of procedures funded
Cryotherapy of Skin Lesions Liquid nitrogen treatment to freeze and destruct an abnormality. 34,000
Excision Skin Lesion Cutting out abnormal tissue away, usually related to cancer. 31,000
GP minor surgery N/A 26,000
Colonoscopy An exam used to detect changes or abnormalities in the large intestine (colon) and rectum. 23,000
Intravitreal injection An injection or shot of medicine into the eye. 10,000
Nasendoscopy A test to look at the inside of the nose, the throat (pharynx) and the voice box (larynx). 9,000
Biopsy of Skin and Subcutaneous Tissue A procedure to remove cells or skin samples from the body for laboratory examination. 9,000
Cataract extraction and insert IOL Removal of cloudy lens in the eye and replacement with artificial IOL (intraocular) lens. 8,000
Gastroscopy (+/- Biopsy / Polyp) A procedure to examine the upper part of the digestive system. 7,000
Removal of Teeth N/A 6,000