There is nothing like having children to turn your hair grey prematurely. Certainly, raising a family often makes parents painfully aware of own their health and mortality. But those who wish to be covered by PMI need to be certain policies meet their specific requirements. If not, they risk disappointment. The main players in the field include BUPA, Norwich Union, PPP healthcare and Prime Health. According to BUPA’s head of marketing, Mark Newson, the PMI market has been flat for several years, yet family business is a potential growth area simply because working couples are attracted by its convenience. “Overall, it’s about flexibility. If one parent has to go into hospital for a small operation, they need to be able to fit it in around their lifestyle,” he comments.
However, the price of such freedom could seriously cramp that lifestyle unless the broad spectrum of products available is considered carefully. For example, the number of children affects the cost of premiums dramatically, so it is wise to check whether insurers charge for each child, or if the whole family receives protection under a single rate. It is also prudent to find out what age dependent children are covered up to – usually 21 or until they married.
“Our policies cover any number of children under a family rate,” says Prime Health spokesperson, Gillian Gibbons. This is just as well because one man on its books has an impressive 11 offspring. The company’s Primecare policy offers comprehensive benefits, including initial outpatient treatment.
Gibbons stresses outpatient cover is particularly useful for parents with toddlers, who are notoriously accident prone. Prime Choice pays brokers 20% commission for new group schemes business and 5% commission for renewals.
Brokers play an important role in ensuring prospective policyholders understand the different range of benefits offered under comprehensive and budget policies. Budget plans, perhaps more financially attractive to less wealthy families, do not normally cover outpatient services.
Leslie Smith, principal of Internet intermediary, Medibroker On-Line, says most of his clients choose comprehensive cover. Comprehensive policies generally have a much broader range of features, including the cost of in-patient diagnostic tests, surgeons’ fees, and hospital accommodation. However, treatment and costs are not easily comparable because each insurer does things very differently, especially regarding rates for single parents.
Routine pregnancy and childbirth are not always covered, but serious complications, such as caesarean sections for medical reasons, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies, sometimes are. Again, this depends on the type of policy.
Primecare premiums rise in 10-yearly increments, so couples in their 20s with any number of children pay £71.81, while single parents in same age band pay £47.06. A couple in their mid-thirties would pay £79 per month, while single parents pay £52.38. Benefits include full cover for insured parents’ accommodation if they wish to stay near hospitalised children aged 14 and under.
BUPA offers several non-corporate PMI schemes families can choose from, including BUPACare, BUPAEssentialCare and BUPA LocalCare. There are three different subscription rates on BUPACare and EssentialCare: single, married (two adults) and family. The family rate includes father, mother and the first child added to the membership. Once the first child has been added, more children can be added to a family registration at no extra charge.
Single parent families are charged at the “married” rate, which, says BUPA, is cheaper than “family” cover. In most cases, the cost of subscriptions on these two products is determined by the age of the eldest adult.
There are no single parent rates on the LocalCare policy, where subscriptions are calculated on a per person covered basis. The package is aimed at people who want low cost cover and are happy to use BUPA’s local network hospitals, of which there are about 175 in the UK.
Norwich Union Healthcare offers the Personal Care and Trust Care policies. Personal Care is rated nationally and covers in-patient and day patient care, specialist fees and a range of benefits including up to three months’ cover for newborn babies. Trust Care is rated by district. It includes in-patient or day patient treatment within the independent sector or the NHS. On both policies, families pay for children aged between 20-24 and the eldest child under 20. Subsequent children are covered free. Each parent pays individual premiums.
Smith says his Internet agency sends clients premium illustrations for all age groups, not just their own, as he thinks it is important to show how their rates will change over the years.
Web surfers fill out an enquiry form online, then email it back to Medibroker, which has “virtual offices” in East Sussex, Southampton and Newcastle. Expatriates make around 80% of enquiries. A pack is usually sent out within three days. The company has agencies with several insurers including Prime Health and Universal Provident.
“Most people looking for health insurance on the Net want a better deal,” explains Smith. And some PMI insurers too say consumer demand persuaded them to introduce “added-value” features like helplines. They are a key add-on in many different types of insurance policies, and PMI products are no different.
Norwich Union offers a GP helpline. “Parents can ring the doctor any time of the day or night. I know this is particularly important for some parents, especially when it’s midnight and they’re not sure whether to call the doctor or not,” says spokeswoman, Louise Zucchi. BCWA, which offers family PMI in its comprehensive Preferential and Vital budget policies, last year launched a healthline which offers stress and bereavement counselling through to advice on medication.
Some families feel cover for complementary care adds value. Many comprehensive policies include this; budget policies do not. Alternative therapies featured usually extend to chiropractics, osteopathy, acupuncture and homeopathy. Although BCWA will consider other treatments if they have been recommended by the policyholder’s GP, says sales and marketing manager, Philip Fowles.
Smith argues insurance companies should think about covering a wider range of alternative therapies as consumers have long demonstrated they are willing to use and pay for them privately.
But can children receive better treatment on the good old NHS? “The NHS cannot be faulted for certain things like accident and emergency treatment,” comments Fowles. “PMI comes into its own with elective surgery which you would normally have to wait for.” Elective surgery encompasses non-life threatening operations, such as common childhood procedures like tonsillectomies.
Hazell Berrill, head of marketing at OHRA, says consumers need to ask themselves if they are happy to be treated in a network of hospitals and if they are content to pay an excess for those not on providers’ lists. “Unrestricted hospital lists maybe important for some consumers because if they’re buying medical insurance they want choice,” she explains.
This is especially important if specialist treatment is required, although Smith points out a large number of NHS specialists do private work anyway.
Knowing there is no need to wait for routine procedures can be reassuring, and families find PMI provides what Fowles refers to as the “comfort factor”.
In particular, children’s comfort is a top priority at Nuffield Hospitals which carries out general surgery including hernia operations and circumcisions. Some branches have dedicated children’s rooms, but ordinary rooms can be adapted too. There is even a little car which kids can drive to the operating theatre in one hospital.
“We’re happy for parents to stay with children if they want to and we have other little things like children’s menus and cutlery,” says Susan Marshall, Nuffield’s head of patient–focused quality initiatives.
She points out that parents need to ensure staff are registered children’s nurses, and also stresses the importance of looking out for exclusions that apply to children, and of checking what policy arrangements need to be made once they become adults as this varies from insurer to insurer.
Yet this is hard to do when many products are more difficult than three-year olds. Newson says BUPA has been rewriting its products “in plain English” over the last 12 months so consumers can see exactly what is covered and what is excluded. “I think there is still more work to be done, but the market as a whole is trying to make it simpler.
“There’s huge potential. To capitalise on this we need to make our products as clear as possible.