Changing faces for changed times


by Philip Wood, sales and marketing executive director, Health Shield

New benefits and services are being added to health cash plans to create extra value

The need for employees to find a way to cover healthcare costs is certainly not a new problem. Before the introduction of the National Health Service (NHS), workers had to find a way to provide for themselves and their families in times of sickness and ill health. It was out of this necessity that the idea of health cash plans was originally formulated.

In 1948, the launch of the NHS meant that worries over paying for GP visits, operations and hospital care were largely taken away. However, rather than heralding the death of the health cash plan, providers were able to evolve to provide additional support during hospital stays and
periods of ill health.

In more recent times, as charges for optical care, dental treatment, physiotherapy and prescriptions have crept back in, health cash plans have found a new role to play in covering the cost of everyday healthcare. Far from experiencing a decline, employer-paid health cash plans experienced a surge between 2007 and 2014, fuelled largely by the changing health cash plan product.

Industry evolution
Rather than stand still, the industry has continued to evolve to cover an ever-increasing range of health benefits and preventative services. These include: employee assistance programmes and face-to-face counselling services; virtual 24/7 GP surgeries via phone or webcam; private prescription services; 24/7 counselling and support helplines; personal accident protection; one-off maternity payments; cover for alternative therapies; online health assessments and personal coaching tools; specialist consultations and home care after a hospital stay and rewards with deals, discounts and cash back offers.

New benefits and services are being added all the time to add extra value, prevent sickness and improve health and wellbeing. It is an unprecedented time of innovation for health cash plans with employers and individuals enjoying more choice than ever before.

Health cash plans and private medical insurance
One of the big developments over the last few years has been the increase in the number of health cash plans providing cover for private medical insurance (PMI) excess payments. Whereas, traditionally, health cash plans were seen as a benefit primarily for blue-collar workers, employers can now dovetail their PMI provision with a health cash plan to enhance employee engagement at all levels.

Focus on health and wellbeing
It has always been a mark of a good employer that it has adopted a caring role in looking after the health of employees. However, now more than ever, employers are realising that improving the health and wellbeing of staff is not just a duty of care, but can help to reduce absenteeism and improve morale and productivity. Health cash plans are well-positioned to play a key role in this process, helping to align affordable healthcare delivery with improved health and wellbeing.

Tailored and flexible health cash plans
The introduction of auto-enrolment for pensions has led to more organisations reviewing their wider flexible benefits provision. Many are looking for health cash plans that offer optional upgrades and can fit on their flexible benefits platforms or voluntary benefits schemes. Others are looking for plans that can fit around their budget and meet the specific needs of their employees and business. Standard off-the-shelf schemes are no longer the norm for medium-to-larger enterprises. More employers now want to pick and choose their own health benefits and services with tailored pricing and terms and conditions.

The future
There is a real desire for more innovative packages as employers want to improve their duty of care and look after the health and wellbeing of employees. Health cash plans are once again rising to the challenge and continually evolving to meet the changing needs of employers and employees. What is next? Watch this space.