Undoubtedly, the coronavirus pandemic has caused real disruption to the Private Healthcare industry. Back in March/April there was concern that the NHS could be overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 related hospital admissions. In order to prepare for the huge strain on health services, the government needed to maximise the number of beds that can offer ventilation and intensive support, and the available healthcare professionals who can help. The NHS therefore enlisted the help of the private sector to help the national effort to fight the virus.

We feel at this time of national crisis this approach was right, and the responsible response to an unprecedented situation to help the nation fight the virus.  This however has had an impact on those with private medical insurance.

What impact has this had on private medical insurance?

The pandemic has led to a drop in privately funded care as non-urgent elective procedures have been subject to postponement. This means there have been a proportion of customer claims which have been temporarily deferred. Insurance providers have continued to authorise treatment to ensure treatment can be accessed as quickly as possible when services return to some sort of normality.

What benefits have remained in place throughout the pandemic?

Urgent and time-critical care, such as cancer treatment, has still been treated as a matter of priority. Virtual and 24 hour telephone services have also been available through many insurers, enabling members access to care through GP’s, musculoskeletal (bone, joint, and muscle) clinicians and mental health practitioners, all from the comfort and safety of their homes.

What have insurers done to help support customers?

The market has responded to the challenges the pandemic has brought about. This has varied between insurers but below are some examples of how they have supported their customers and members:

  • Premium payment deferrals and discounts for those who in financial hardship
  • Excess waivers for those who have had treatment delayed, which has resulted in the start of a new policy year whereby a new excess would usually apply
  • Enhancement of virtual/digital services to support health and wellbeing
  • Specific COVID-19 cashback benefit for members who require a hospital stay due to coronavirus

The market has stated that they are not looking to profit from the pandemic. Some providers have spoken about premium rebates/cash back, though this is not likely to materialise until next year when the impact of COVID-19 becomes clearer.

What is the current position?

Thankfully, the NHS have not been overwhelmed to date and this has resulted in some facilities being returned to the private sector. Whilst things are certainly not back to ‘normal’, some non-urgent elective procedures are now taking place. Therefore, private medical insurance policies are starting to see more claims being put through though it is interesting to note that the UK is seeing people defer treatment due to a lack of confidence, as a result of COVID-19.

As it is so important for some people to get treatment, especially for serious conditions such as cancer, If anyone holding private medical insurance needs to make a claim, they should call the insurer’s claims team and they will be able to confirm treatment availability and discuss options.

The situation has developed constantly over the last few months and no doubt will continue to do so over the coming months. I will certainly be keeping a close eye on developments and if you would like to discuss this topic in more detail, please do get in touch.

You’d be forgiven for assuming that income protection is a benefit people need later in life when age-related illnesses and conditions become more common. However, this really is a benefit which should also be valued by younger members of your workforce. More and more people in their 30s are making claims for Income Protection benefits. Cover protects your employees if they are unable to work due to a physical condition but benefit will also be paid for employees who suffer with mental health conditions. Mental health is the second most common cause of income protection claims which may go some way to help explain the increase in claims for those in their 30s.

 

Lifestyle events also often prompt people to think about what cover and protection they have in place. Examples of events which may result in somebody valuing benefits like income protection would be buying a property, having a child or getting married.

Buying a property: When purchasing a property, it is of utmost importance for somebody to protect their home and the ability to make monthly mortgage payments, in the event of being unable to work. Income protection cover provides a replacement monthly income if your employee is unable to work because of long-term illness or injury.

Income protection should by no means be classed as a ‘sick pay’ policy. In addition to the financial benefits, the majority of income protection providers promote early intervention services and rehabilitation support services. This may include access to counselling or physiotherapy to help employees recover and return to work if appropriate.

It’s not only house buyers who need protection. If you’re renting and unable to work through illness or injury, bills still need to be paid if a tenant wants to remain in their property.

Having a child: Starting a family, or extending an existing one, is a very exciting time. However, this means your employees will have dependants relying on their income for them to be looked after. What would happen if an employee’s life was turned upside down by illness or injury? Income protection can help to provide financial support for those affected by illness or injury.

Getting married: Marriage is another event which can urge employees to consider income protection cover. Consider when partners are dependent on each other for splitting financial commitments such as mortgage payments. If one were to be hit by unexpected illness or injury, having protection in place could mean the difference between keeping their home or having to sell up and move.

 

Your younger staff may not fully recognise the benefit of employee protection benefits until they reach some of these milestones in their lives.

 

What should companies do to help all employees recognise the full benefit of a group Income Protection scheme?

  • Identify all additional benefits: Most income protection schemes will include additional ancillary benefits which are included free of charge. These may include an Employee Assistance Programme and Early Intervention and Rehabilitation services.
  • Promote these benefits to your staff: Regularly remind your staff of the additional benefits they have access to. Counselling services are available through an Employee Assistance Programme and promotion of these services is key to driving engagement
  • Review your employee benefits package: If you don’t have cover in place already, introducing policies such as income protection will provide your employees with vital support when they need it the most

 

We can carry out a free no obligation review of your employee benefits package. If you would like to find out more, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your usual contact or at:

@: info@wingatebs.com

T: 01883 332260

Throughout my time in the Employee Benefits industry, I have been asked to carry out countless reviews on the structure of some Group Risk policies (typically Group Life Assurance and Group Income Protection) with a view to providing feedback on potential issues or risks that may exist for the Employer. On the whole, I can say that over 60-70% of these reviews confirmed the job the employer or their advisers are doing is good and only very small tweaks or changes to policy structures and/or wordings are recommended.

However, some reviews have highlighted gaping holes in cover and as such huge potential liabilities sitting with the employer, without them knowing! An example of such areas of risk are:

Removal of the default retirement age

In 2011, it became unlawful for an employee to ‘retire’ a member of staff based on age alone. Gone are the days where a member of staff reaches age 65, receives a carriage clock from their employer and spends the rest of their days playing golf or bridge. Employees tend to look for a better work/life balance and therefore may choose to reduce hours to facilitate these wishes whilst remaining employed, as they want to remain occupied and keep their mind busy. This is certainly the case for my 70-year-old Mum.

Even now we review many Group Life Assurance (Death In Service) policies that still cease at age 65 which based on current trends is not suitable as many employees continue to work into their late 60’s or early 70’s. It is highly likely that a company’s employee life assurance benefit is referred to in an employment contract or staff handbook and therefore if an employee were to pass away post age 65 then without the existing policy having been amended to reflect the aforementioned change, the employer could be looking at a potentially crippling liability.

The good news is that an Employer does not have to insure an employee indefinitely, but they should ensure that their policy (and subsequently reflected in any contract/handbook) are amended to cease at for example, ‘State Pension Age (SPA) or age 70, whichever is the latter’.

How does your policy and employee documentation read?

Group Life Trust set up

Although many employers have Group Life Assurance (Death in Service) policies, it is rare they are ever called upon. That doesn’t mean to say an employer shouldn’t consider what would happen in the event of a claim and have a process in place to ensure it can receive the benefits and pay on to the deceased employee’s loved ones in a timely manner. The last thing you would want is to provide such a valuable benefit then see delays in this being paid which results in more anguish and upset for the deceased’s beneficiaries.

Many employers shy away from or simply neglect to consider their responsibilities in this area, as understandably, they do not want to tempt fate, but they are also probably unaware of the information and facilities required in order for a claim to be processed quickly and efficiently by an insurer. The following questions may test your ‘readiness’ for such a claim:

*Is your scheme in a Master Trust or do you own our own trust?

*Where is your trust deed?

*Who are your scheme’s trustees?

*Who is your scheme administrator?

*Do you have a trustee bank account ? If not, do you know what the bank would require to set one up and how long this could take?

*Is your scheme registered with HRMC?

*Do you have up to date nomination forms on file from all the employee and are these readily to hand?

 

These are just two common areas of weakness we consistently see but there are many more. We would be more than happy to review your benefit schemes to ensure the structure and accompanying procedures are all in order, taking any concern in this area away from you. For further information on our scheme suitability review please contact the team on 01883 332260.

 

Richard is one of our Strategic Benefit Consultants.

The theme of World Mental Health Day 2017 is mental health in the workplace. While a lot of progress is being made to remove the stigma surrounding mental ill health, employers can be at a loss as to what to do next. Many may be aware of the support that is available via traditional routes, such as employee assistance programmes (EAPs) or private medical insurance; but Group Risk Development (GRiD) is telling employers that there are now many more solutions available within group risk polices (employer-sponsored life assurance, income protection and critical illness protection products).

 

What’s new

Solutions are available to help employers and managers promote mental health and to support staff who have mental health disorders. For instance, spotting the early signs that employees need help is crucial in mitigating the chance of problems worsening and can also speed recovery. Early awareness makes early intervention possible, and a number of group risk providers offer mental health first aid training to help line managers identify early signs.

 

Training can also be tailored for specific demographics, such as younger workers. Courses can focus on key areas linked to depression, such as dealing with insomnia. Practical in nature, they are designed to directly encourage better behaviours to help management support their staff.

 

Providers have also embraced technology, including taking the development of apps to a whole new level. Proven to engage employees, they can be personally tailored to aid buy-in, incentivised with achievable rewards, and deliver tangible results. Some providers also offer free fitness trackers to staff. Employers benefit too as they can measure the difference such apps can make to their workforce.

 

The new developments are a great addition to the support that has already been incorporated within group risk products in recent years. Such support can include EAPs, fast-track access to counselling, case management, vocational rehabilitation, HR advice, second medical opinion and more. Employers that actively make use of the support under their group risk products can have access to both the reactive and the proactive, enabling them to offer well-rounded support for their staff and business.

 

Why now

There are many market-leading solutions that providers have developed to support mental health in the workplace. A lot are offered at no extra cost within group risk policies. Employers may have access to them and not realise. GRiD is urging employers to look at the details of what comes along with their group risk products, talk to their advisers, work with their providers, and make use of the support that’s available. For employers who don’t yet offer group risk benefits, it is worth investigating what’s out there.

 

For whom

Group risk providers have worked hard at developing solutions to help all employers and their staff every day, regardless of size or type of organisation. Those companies that make use of them effectively can reduce absence costs and improve on productivity, whilst reinforcing a caring attitude.

 

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD said, ‘There is every reason for employers to investigate the new developments being made. Group risk is no longer about simply offering financial support when needed, it is seeing some of the most exciting areas of development, and it is fast becoming an important part of the go-to solution offering practical support for mental wellbeing.

 

‘Our message for employers that are serious about supporting mental health in the workplace is this – if you have group risk policies in place, make full use of them; if you don’t, now is the time to investigate the options available.’

 

GRiD is also reminding employers that it is important that such support isn’t looked at in isolation. Mental, physical and financial resilience are all equally important and go hand in hand. Offering employees support for their mental health is an important part of a holistic approach to looking after the overall health and wellbeing of staff. Group risk policies can help in all these areas.

Group Life Assurance pays out without the need for probate and provides bereavement counselling, says GRiD, following the bereavement benefit changes

From 6 April this year, the new Bereavement Support Payment replaced the current suite of State bereavement benefits (Bereavement Payment, Bereavement Allowance and Widowed Parent’s Allowance).

On the face of it, the changes appear to be beneficial, with a refocus on the additional and more immediate costs of bereavement support for the 18-month period immediately following the bereavement (rather than for 12 months), and no loss of benefit on remarriage or re-partnering. However, many families will be worse off, especially those with children where the current Widowed Parent’s Allowance is paid until such time as Child Benefit stops.

As if to add insult to injury, the Ministry of Justice is also abolishing the current fee structure for probate and introducing a new banded structure based on the value of an estate – meaning that many people will be hit by much higher charges than they expect.

The combination of these changes could leave even more bereaved families significantly worse off.

Katharine Moxham, spokesperson for GRiD said: “Group life assurance via the workplace has always played a valuable part in financially supporting dependants when a member of a family dies whilst in employment. However, we believe it is likely to become increasingly appreciated as families could now receive less in the way of State bereavement benefits, and are required to pay out more for probate.

“Crucially, in the event of the death of someone whose employer provides group life assurance, benefits are generally paid within a few days without the need for probate, which ensures that families are not left on the bread line or with immediate financial concerns.”

The extra help on top of a financial pay-out

As well as providing a financial benefit, most group life assurance providers offer built-in bereavement counselling services and probate helplines, which are free to access for dependants. This can provide a valuable emotional and practical lifeline for survivors at a particularly difficult time.

 

For more details of Group Life Assurance schemes and their ancillary benefits please contact the team on 01883 332260 or at info@wingatebs.com.

 

About GRiD: Group Risk Development (GRiD) is the industry body for the group risk protection sector, promoting the value to UK businesses of providing financial protection for their staff, enhancing their wellbeing and improving employee engagement. Wingate are proud to be active members of GRiD.

Motivating employees to improve their health

Offering employees access to health-related benefits and supporting their promotion through our member engagement services will help deliver success through reduced absence, and increased productivity.

Investing in preventative health benefits

The traditional comprehensive private healthcare provision is increasingly being replaced by more relevant, flexible and valued healthcare benefits which employees access more regularly to enhance their wellbeing.

Support for your employees in the event of the unexpected

Life assurance and income protection are the cornerstone of many benefit programmes and provide employees with the peace of mind that should they fall ill or die, their families will receive financial protection.