The coronavirus pandemic will have a lasting effect on the PMI and wider employee benefits industry according to advisers and insurers.
Not all of these will be negative, according to advisers, with some employers likely to have more of a focus on health and wellbeing benefits going forward.
PCH managing director Claire Ginnelly says: “When we come through this there is likely to be more demand for these policies and a renewed appreciation of the support services they offer. At the moment awareness of some of these services is fragile.”
She says the industry though faces challenges though in the weeks and months ahead.
Many of the advisers and insurers attending Corporate Adviser’s virtual roundtable agreed that these support services were more likely to be to the forefront of PMI propositions in future.
WPA chief executive Mark Southern says: “Health and wellbeing services are likely to be a primary focus, not just a ‘nice to have’ add on.”
He says the current crisis will also accelerate certain trends within the industry. “We are seeing the adoption of far more digital services. This is changing the way people communicate, whether its by apps, phone or video conferencing systems. It is also changing how care options are being delivered.
“It is likely this will change how we work in future once this immediate crisis is passed. Necessity is the mother of invention and this may lead to some more efficient working practices.”
Cigna Europe director sales and commercial effectiveness Amy MacKay says this crisis will encourage more providers and clients to take a more ‘whole of body’ approach. “PMI propositions aren’t just about treating the sick. It is a whole person approach, which takes into account issues like mental health and wellbeing.”
One of the immediate challenges for the industry is dealing with clients who are furloughing staff. Southern says insurers will give employers the option for keeping these staff on cover, however he says this is a decision for individual employers to make.
One of the other main challenges is in the international market: where firms have staff working across the globe.
Engage Health Group international director Ian Abbott says: “Insurers working in this international market have responded really well to this challenge.”
He points out that in the UK market, the cost of this pandemic is likely to be marginal for UK-based health insurers — as those needed medical treatment will be taken in as emergency patients via the NHS.Many may save money as elective treatments and routine operations are cancelled.
In contrast there is likely to be far higher claims costs in the international market. He says: “Despite the exposure insurers face we have seen them provide full cover and extend this in some cases. In countries like the US there is likely to be claims costs, plus the additional costs of evacuation and repatriation of people working in countries across the globe.”
He says this is likely to be both a complex and costly exercise, with countries like South Africa — often used as a medical and transport hub for many firms working across Africa — closing their borders completely. “Evacuation can be complex at the best of times, let alone when you have to deal with closed bored and a highly infectious disease.”
He adds: “We are talking to clients and saying they should help employees on the group isolate and protect themselves. Where possible they should be looking at visa arrangements and working with the insurer from the outset to assist them where possible.”