What does the future hold for health cash plans?

The ongoing strain on NHS services is continuing to fuel the growth of the health cash plan market, as employees demand more timely support for their health complaints.

Health technology

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  • The health cash plan market will continue to grow off the back of the NHS’s ongoing struggle to cope with the demands placed on its services.
  • Wellbeing services will be a particular focus for cash plan providers in 2015.
  • Online services to help speed up claims processes are also expected to grow.

According to the Health cover UK market report 2013, published by Laing and Buisson in July 2014, demand for employer-funded health cash plans increased by 15.4% between 2012 and 2013 to reach a total of 588,000 contributors.  

Paul Shires, executive director of sales and marketing at cash plan provider Westfield Health, says: “The general election is looming and all of the [political] parties are promising to invest [in the NHS], but the reality is that money needs to be saved.

“More elective, non-urgent surgeries in the NHS are being delayed, even rationed, and mental health provision is falling short, too, so the whole NHS landscape is a difficult one, but it does provide opportunities for cash plan providers.”

Consultation benefits

Westfield Health plans to focus on its consultation benefits, such as its health scans, with cash plan users able to access unlimited MRI and CT scans.

“This is probably our fastest-growing claims area, which shows that people are demanding to be seen quicker by a consultant of their choice, which our cash plans facilitate,” says Shires.

The provider will also focus on wellbeing benefits this year, particularly wearable technology, to help employers track employees’ health data with which to inform their workplace health and wellbeing strategies.

Mobile phone-based claims

Fellow cash plan provider Medicash is also focusing on technology this year, with plans to launch an app that enables employees to submit their claims via their smartphones.

Sue Weir, chief executive at Medicash, says: “I think that there is an expectation from [employees and employers] around wanting to work more with this digital age, so [they are] looking at speed of response and being paperless.”

Medicash also plans to enhance its GP support service, which currently enables employees to submit email queries to doctors through the Best Doctors service. The cash plan provider is currently considering how to provide private GP appointments.

Weir says: “We can see a real pinch point at GP surgeries and employees wanting to get appointments when it suits them.”

Bupa is also focusing on the speed with which employees can transact with the business, in addition to helping employers introduce integrated health and wellbeing strategies to their business as part of efforts to refine its existing product range.

Andy Nicholson, senior product manager at Bupa, says: “We are looking at the products that we have in place now in terms of making them better and enhancing them.”

Necessity will drive market growth

Nicholson, who says that dental, optical and complementary therapies continue to dominate the top three health cash plan claims made by employees, adds that Bupa will further develop its product range with employers’ budgets in mind.

“It is about making sure that plans meet their budgets,” he says. ”We have got be aware that [cash plans] are a low-cost product.”

Medicash’s Weir adds that providers must also be mindful of employers’ need to demonstrate a return on investment as part of their focus.

The forthcoming launch of a health cash plan to cover statutory sick pay from Essential Supplementary Medical Insurance (ESMI), which launched in January 2013, is also designed to help employers address this need.