Comparing health insurance policies is not straightforward – get a broker to take the strain!

Businesses offer health insurance to some or all of their staff for a variety of reasons. It may be demanded as part of the pay package. It may be self-interest to ensure key personnel are off work the minimum amount of time with sickness or it may be a retention tool to keep staff from leaving. It may even be just an option the company can buy in ‘bulk’ and offer at a discount for staff to choose as part of a basket of benefits.

The reason for buying may make a substantial difference to the health insurance you want to buy and the price you pay for it. All health insurance policies are not the same! 

Unlike most other insurances, health insurance offers a vast range of options for SMEs looking to attract, retain or motivate staff, or just keep health absenteeism to a minimum. To ensure that staff are off for the shortest amount of time for common complaints such as back pain (the most common reason for work absences) you need a cover that will pay for medical treatment but perhaps also chiropractor or acupuncture services. Dental problems are also high on the list for absenteeism – should you have a separate policy or combined? If health cover is just a perk, would a cash plan meet the requirement by giving a sum of money as a contribution to health costs or to compensate for hospital stays? Might the answer be that you need some part of all three and could this be the cheapest option? 

You might feel it unnecessary to cover the ‘dread diseases’ such as cancer, which the NHS prioritises, but you would like to cover the tests to expedite the diagnosis. The location of your workforce may also have implications for costs or savings; many insurers offer discounts for electing to only use certain local hospitals. 

Physical health is only part of the picture. Mental health is also a growing concern for many businesses, not least to meet their legal duty of care. Stress is vying with back problems for the top slot in causes for time off work. In both cases early interventions can radically reduce the time off and prevention may be possible with the right support activities. 

Each consideration in choosing the cover you want has a cost implication, up or down. Do you want the same cover for all staff, or more for key staff than others? Do you want to cover families at your cost or the employees? And so it goes on. Assuming you have thought of all the options, you then need to read all the small print on all the policies you have to choose from, which by the way are never quite like-for-like, each has their own take. Finally, having sorted what you want, you negotiate – well you would with any other supplier! 

Alternatively, you could select a good, specialist insurance broker, answer a lot of questions just once and let them worry about the small print, the options and exemptions. It will not cost you anything because they make their money from commissions (not available to you direct) and often have negotiated special packages based on their experience of their customer needs. They may also be able to offer a few services to reduce your costs further by advising you on prevention or risk reduction activities that may reduce the incidence of claims on your policy, and so reduce your premiums over time.

By Brett Hill, managing director of The Health Insurance Group