The Exeter, the specialist provider of private medical insurance (PMI) and income protection for individuals, has moved to offer its healthcare members an additional benefit during the current coronavirus crisis, as the sector gets to grips with the potential short, medium and long-term implications of the pandemic.
The provider said it will be offering an enhanced cash benefit for PMI members so that if they do fall ill and require treatment – and, given the current climate, most likely it would have to be urgent – they will at least receive some form of financial recompense.
Britain’s private and independent sector hospitals have committed almost their entire capacity to support the NHS as it comes under increasing pressure to treat COVID-19 patients as well as continue to carry out non-coronavirus related treatments and procedures.
The pledge made by hospital operators – the capacity is being given over at cost – has been welcomed almost unanimously as a necessary move in the national effort to get the better of coronavirus.
But it means that individuals and group members who are covered by PMI or have access to private care through a corporate healthcare scheme will, in the main, be unable to use it to pay for hospital treatment for the foreseeable future as the capacity simply becomes unavailable.
The Exeter is one of the first providers to set out an explicit additional benefit for members since the pandemic reached the UK. The move, announced yesterday, follows a similar pledge made by fellow provider Vitality.
Last month, Vitality said that any VitalityHealth member hospitalised in the NHS due to COVID-19 will be eligible for a £250 payment per day, for the first eight days, rising to £500 from the ninth day onwards, subject to a maximum of £5,000.
Similar moves by other PMI providers – either to remind members that their policies include NHS cash benefits or to introduce specific ones for COVID-19 hospital stays – are expected to come to the fore as insurers scramble to demonstrate value to their customers during the coronavirus crisis.
Insurers and intermediaries have been reminding clients that many PMI products offer access to additional services over and beyond private hospital consultations and treatment, pointing to propositions including virtual GPs, mental health support and access to employee assistance programmes and counselling.
Aviva UK Health has stated on its website that its existing NHS cash benefit “will be available for any customers hospitalised as a result of COVID-19”, while Bupa has confirmed on its site that: “To ensure that we’re supporting our customers who are being treated for COVID-19, we will pay a cash benefit to our customers where this is included in their policy.”
A spokesman for AXA PPP healthcare confirmed that its NHS cash payment benefit applies for members who are admitted overnight to an NHS hospital for treatment of COVID-19.
While it will be difficult for anyone to access private care over the coming weeks, General & Medical said in a statement on its website: “All other benefits under your policy, including 24/7 GP helpline services, counselling services and cash benefits etc remain available and unaffected.”
And WPA has issued guidance on its website which say that the healthcare funder is already “reminding” its customers that it provides a NHS cash benefit and advised them to check their policy/scheme guide for details.
But a spokesman for Freedom Health Insurance said that since the nature of COVID-19 means that it is “not planned, nor elective”, it would not pay a NHS cash benefit for NHS treatment of COVID-19.
He said: “We are currently reviewing this situation and will make updates available.”
It is likely that almost all individuals or companies who want to self-pay for treatment – as opposed to paying for it through PMI – at Britain’s private hospitals will also be unable to do so in the weeks to come.
The global lockdown being introduced by governments – including overseas travel – also means that even offering to pay for members to receive treatment outside the UK is impracticable.
In the meantime, PMI providers have been trying to reassure customers and brokers that they should hold on to their vital cover so that it can kick in without a need for further underwriting or additional exclusions once the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control and private hospitals are fully open for business again.
A spokesman for The Exeter said in a statement: “We’re making some changes to our PMI plans to offer additional support, because we feel it’s the right thing to do.”
The Exeter’s enhanced ex-gratia cash benefit means that from April 1st 2020 and for a minimum of three months, it will offer an enhanced cash benefit of £500 per night to members who are treated without charge in either an NHS or private setting, for any eligible condition including COVID-19.
The benefit will be capped at £10,000 but it will not affect any No Claims Discount, excess, available cash benefit or overall policy benefit limits. It applies to both new and existing policies.
However, in terms of actual treatments and consultations normally covered by PMI, The Exeter spokesman said that, like other insurers, the mutual awaits further guidance from healthcare providers on how private hospital treatments will be affected while they provide additional support to the NHS.
But he added: “All our members will continue to be able to access consultations with specialists and practitioners over the phone and online where clinically appropriate.
“We are monitoring this situation carefully and will update members of any changes that might affect them in due course.”
The spokesman said: “As a mutual, we put our members’ needs first. Over the coming months, we understand that many of our PMI members will experience the effects of COVID-19, either directly by being hospitalised or indirectly by having their treatment delayed or treatment provider changed.”
The Exeter spokesman said that with the NHS currently under “immense pressure”, the provider would also like to remind all members about HealthWise, its free member benefits app.
He said: “Currently, all our HealthWise services are available. Remote GP consultations can be used for general treatment and advice on day-to-day, non-urgent medical conditions. HealthWise can also provide free access to mental health and physiotherapy.”
Brokers have contacted Health Insurance & Protection to say they welcome such moves and are sympathetic to the predicament that insurers find themselves in – but they want to see longer term solutions become concrete as quickly as possible.
FREEDOM HEALTH INSURANCE
Freedom Health Insurance, the specialist PMI provider, yesterday provided a useful update for members about how coronavirus may or may not impact them and their cover.
The informative update provides clarity for members around issues including referrals, pre-authorisation, postponed appointments and more.
The spokesman added that the provider is “open and operating” from Monday to Friday 9am to 6pm.
Other providers have reported unusually high levels of calls from members and brokers during the coronavius crisis, but the Freedom spokesman said: “We are pleased that we have been able to maintain our service levels throughout this demanding time.”
Freedom Health Insurance’s latest coronavirus advice is available here.
GENERAL & MEDICAL
Like other PMI providers, customers can still buy one of General & Medical’s full range of policies in the usual way.
The provider has also now said that while its customers are able to claim in the usual way, too, if spare private hospital capacity should become available during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is likely that any care would come most likely with “some temporary restrictions or delays to some treatments”.
A spokesman for General & Medical said: “We are in daily contact with private facilities throughout the UK and have been notified that elective procedures will be suspended over the next few weeks as many beds are required to support the NHS to deal with the expected increase in patients requiring treatment for the virus. This will, of course, reverse once the virus is controlled.
“Urgent private treatments for life-threatening conditions will continue where facilities are available.
“Private cancer treatments will continue where facilities are available.
“Treatments for other or minor medical conditions may be available depending on the availability of facilities.”
General & Medical’s latest coronavirus advice is available here.
BUPA DENTAL, BUPA CASH PLANS, BUPA TRAVEL INSURANCE, BUPA HEALTH SERVICES AND BUPA CARE HOMES
Bupa has provided a useful update for its Bupa Dental members outlining which of its dental practices are closed – as in line with sector-wide Government guidance – and which are still available to give telephone support and advice for ongoing treatment or dental emergencies.
In terms of Bupa Cash Plans members, the provider has decided to waive the exclusion for claims related to pandemics for any hospital in-patient stays and hospital day-case admissions benefit claims relating to the coronavirus starting from 12 March 2020, when the World Health Organisation offically declared the coronavirus crisis to be a “pandemic”.
A Bupa spokesman said that claims for all other benefits will continue to be processed in line with terms and conditions, and the pandemic exclusion will apply to relevant benefits, such as consultations and diagnostic tests or scans, where these benefits are included in the policy.
Customers who have a “non-standard” cash plan arrangement, should refer to their membership guide in reference to pandemic exclusions.
The provider has also set out more advice for its Travel Insurance customers.
Bupa has also updated its latest information about how coronavirus is affecting its Health Services customers.
The latest information about coronavirus and Bupa Care Homes and Villages is available here.