PMI providers have seen a surge in demand for the added-value support services offered since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cigna International director of sales and commercial effectiveness, Amy MacKay says their firm has seen a 144 per cent increase in the use of telecommunication services between the last quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020.
MacKay says this crisis has highlighted the importance of many of these services: be they virtual GPs, Employee Assistance Programmes, or health and wellbeing packages focused on mental health support.
She says that the pandemic has highlighted in particular the importance of mental health support as part of a whole PMI package.
“For employers their priority is a duty of care to their employees. Mental health support is being seen as essential during this time, not just a ‘nice to have’ added benefit.”
She adds that the isolation and potential loneliness caused by the lockdown is likely to increase these mental health problems.
Barnett Waddingham associate and head of benefit consulting, David Collington says he is finding some clients are looking to fast-track mental health and wellbeing services as a result of the Covid crisis.
“At one of the scale we have clients who are simply looking at the survival of their business. PMI benefits may not be a priority. But at the other end we have clients who have been looking to do more on wellbeing and are now fast-tracking this. This can be done immediately with many PMI products.”
Benefiz founder and director Tim Gillingham, says one of the role for consultants like him is to signpost for employers which added value services they have, and which may be the most appropriate to use.
He points out that there is a proliferation of these services across a range of PMI policies, cash plans, group risk products and employee assistance programmes. He adds: “Given the increased demand, the delivery of some of these services is yet to be tested.”
He says his firm uses a single platform to help clients navigate these various services, rather than them having to access different sites.
Collington says this pandemic is likely to lead more of a focus on these added value services.
“Before this advisers may often focus on the core hospital benefits. But the wellbeing aspects of these policies will be seen as increasingly valuable , whether its the mental health support of financial wellbeing angle.”
Advisers and insurers say that these support services, alongside more flexible payments terms, has encouraged many clients to retain cover.
PCH managing director Claire Ginnelly says: “Some clients are clearly hard hit by this pandemic and are looking to furlough staff at present. But we have not been hit with a tsunami of cancellations, which some might have expected.”
She says that with many private hospitals and insurers redeploying resources to the NHS, she wasn’t sure if some clients would cancel cover.
However she says these support services are providing tangible benefits. “People understand why the private sector is supporting the NHS. They also may be thinking that when we are out of the current crisis PMI policies have the potential to deliver real benefit. Many treatments are currently being pushed back within the NHS so those needing planned and elective treatment may get this far quicker through private providers in future.”
WPA chief executive Mark Southern agrees that there has been little in the way of cancellations. “We have seem some clients scale back their benefits, but we are not seeing corporates scale back on the number of people on cover.”
The current crisis has highlighted the importance of such protection. Southern says in the retail side of the business there has been an increase in new business enquiries.
Engage Health Group international director Ian Abbott points out that many firms will be concerned that they have adequate cover when travelling to jurisdictions which rely on an insurance-based healthcare system. As he points out treatment on a ventilator in the US would cost in the region of $75,000.
“There may be firms that have individual in the UK at the moment but are anticipating they will need to travel to areas like the US before a vaccine is in place. They will want to make sure they have protection in place.”