Cash plans have really come into their own during the pandemic due to their flexibility and cost effectiveness and while claims fell away initially in the first lockdown, a recovery currently appears to be in full swing driven by renewals, new and returning business.
According to Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at Towergate Health & Protection, cash plans have had to evolve due to the pandemic particularly as customers have not used traditionally popular benefits to visit the optician or dentist during lockdown.
But Clark adds they remain a cost effective benefit and offer the option of employees joining on a voluntary basis.
Bypassing NHS delays
Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing notes it is too early to say what the lasting impact of lockdown restrictions will mean for post-pandemic cash plan design.
However, given the massive NHS waiting lists at present, he says it is likely the focus in the years immediately after restrictions are lifted will be for members to use cash plans to bypass some of the delays for routine NHS outpatient treatments.
Steve Ellis, head of employee benefit consulting at Prosperis, says his clients who have had employees working from home are promoting benefits such as physiotherapy to ensure that potential musculoskeletal issues are dealt with.
But Pam Whelan, sales director at Simplyhealth, says the provider has also seen a significant rise in customers seeking help for mental health and skin conditions, as well as musculoskeletal issues.
The provider has responded to this by increasing its digital healthcare provision, which in turn has been used in unprecedented numbers with employee assistance programmes (EAP), remote GP services and physiotherapy triage seeing the greatest increase in usage.
Whelan expects digital healthcare to become more prominent in the years to come as a result of the pandemic. “Our product offerings have adapted to meet this need through our health plans and suite of apps and we’ll continue to develop our products and services to meet our customers’ needs,” she adds.
Flu jabs and ear wax removal
Steve Munday, head of technical and underwriting at BHSF, reports brokers have been talking to the firm about whether they might offer flu jabs and higher age bands for children.
“We have also been receiving requests from policyholders about adding an ear wax removal benefit now that the NHS has stopped providing this,” he says.
Munday also reports the provider has seen incoming claims continue.
“The nature of the pandemic itself has in many ways reinforced that reliance; lots of people have experienced physical, mental or financial problems for the first time and those who were already struggling found things even harder,” he continues.
“For those whose cash plan portfolio includes the benefit of a telephone helpline which provides practical help in areas related to stress, debt and addiction, together with legal and financial information relating to relationships, tax, employment and welfare benefits, the support has been – and remains – invaluable.
“Another key factor has been accessibility – the pandemic created a surge of contact-free delivery across all areas of our lives. As we also offer a GP helpline, this has proved extremely valuable to policyholders, who have been able to stay at home and still talk to a GP about a problem.”
Susie Morris, director of trust sales at Healix Health Services, says the firm is currently experiencing high demand for cash plan options alongside its trust offering.
“Increasingly, employers are either looking to expand existing benefits to those employees not currently covered by private healthcare or wanting to provide some form of benefit support to their entire workforce,” she says.
“We’re also seeing more employers, who previously didn’t offer any healthcare benefits, now looking into cash plans to support their employees and their families with the added care of a nurse-led service and unlimited virtual GP access.”
New business arriving
Paul Gambon, sales and marketing director at Medicash, says while the firm saw a reduction in claims in the first lockdown, it has since seen an upturn in new business.
“It’s not necessarily that we’re winning lots of different schemes from other providers, it’s companies who have never had anything in place on the cash plan front are now interested in what we do which is encouraging,” he says.
Gambon reveals that last month the group witnessed its second highest claims month on record.
“We are seeing significant resurgence in the claims and we are expecting claims to run higher than pre-pandemic levels for the second half of 2021,” he continues.
“Those people who have not prioritised that pair of glasses because they didn’t want to leave the house, the chances are they will probably want them this year.
“We’re watching this space. It does seem to be a fluid scenario but ultimately there’s going to be a bounce back as the economy restarts as well.”
Gambon also acknowedged that the business had seen a few companies cancel their plans as a result of the pandemic.
However it was not all bad news and many firms had recovered after taking advantage of payment breaks or other support.
“We did allow companies who were struggling financially to take payment holidays until things have improved and recovered for them but the very few who did, quite a number have actually already come back asking to restart their policy,” he adds.
Looking ahead Courtney Marsh, CEO at Health Shield, says intermediaries are looking to expand into new markets – especially the massively underserved SME market and he is also already seeing increases in new business levels compared to last year.
“Our occupational health platform starts with a free helpline and extends to a full range of OH solutions. From these services, employers can more accurately signpost to wellbeing support services,” he says.
“On health cash plan claims, we continued to deliver uninterrupted customer service last year, paying out 393,000 claims, totalling over £20m to members with more than 94% paid within two working days.
“We’re experiencing above normal levels of claims at the moment as services have opened up again. We expect this to last for around 3-4 months and then return to normal levels.”