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THE CHANGING FACE OF PRIVATE HEALTHCARE

Being in Private practice in the UK has been something of a curate’s egg in recent years.

Falling insurance company reimbursements, coupled with increasing hospital and medical indemnity costs has meant reduced income for many clinicians, or increased activity to maintain the status quo .

Private Medical insurance (PMI) has been on the decline since the 2008 recession.

Largely a workplace benefit, companies started withdrawing from PMI schemes as a cost-cutting exercise. The increase in Insurance Premium Tax from 5% in 2011 to 12% in 2017, alongside rising premiums made it less cost effective for both company and private PMI customers.

There has also been a systemic shift in attitudes around insurance between Boomers, Gen X and now Millennials. With access to cheap credit, many consumers prefer to pay as they go using a credit card or bank loan rather than monthly premiums.

It is perhaps not surprising then that 89% of the UK currently do not have Private medical Insurance.

Self-pay has always been part of the mix driven by rising PMI rates, increased waiting times for NHS treatment, procedures not being covered at all by the NHS and an increasing market for aesthetic and cosmetic surgery. 

Prior to 2020, Self-pay was growing at about 6% a year and the total value of the self-pay market for private treatments was £1.8bn. We had been seeing a rising interest in those areas where waiting lists were long and procedures cost below £7000. 

Covid has been a game changer. 

What Covid has taught us is that health matters and people are prepared to pay for it. There has been a bump in PMI but by far the biggest jump has been in self-pay.

Self-pay is booming and the rate of demand is increasing month by month.

As a consequence of the COVID crisis NHS waiting times have dramatically increased and will continue to do so. The NHS is currently reviewing all patients on waiting lists to determine if they still wish to be treated and also restricting access to a growing list of specific procedures. 

Patients fear going to an NHS hospital where COVID patients will also be treated. 

Research in 2017 for BMI Healthcare found that over 53% of people had not heard of or did not understand the concept of self-pay. Keith Pollard Editor in Chief of The International Medical Travel Journal wrote in June 2019 “There’s a vast untapped market out there of middle-income consumers who can’t afford health insurance and don’t access private healthcare – they don’t understand it and they think they can’t afford it.” 

The reduction in NHS capacity combined with a permanent increase in people’s personal savings habits provides an exciting opportunity to stimulate patients’ interest in self-pay healthcare services. 

Medmin are taking on the challenge!