Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 495 - 499)

THURSDAY 9 FEBRUARY 2006

MR BERNIE HURN AND MR MICHAEL HALL

  Q495  Chairman: Thank you very much for coming. Could I first of all apologise for the lateness of the hour. We were expecting to be into this third session a little earlier. For the record I wonder if you could give me your names and the organisations you are from.

  Mr Hurn: My name is Bernie Hurn. I am the Research and Strategy Manager for the Simplyhealth Group, formerly known as HSA.

  Mr Hall: My name is Mike Hall. I am the Chief Executive of Standard Life Healthcare and, just for the information of the Committee, you can probably tell from the lines on my forehead that I have had 30 years' experience in healthcare, 12 of which were in the NHS and nine of which have been in the private hospital sector before moving to the insurance side.

  Q496  Chairman: Once again, thanks for coming along. I wonder if I could ask both of you what are the major problems that people experience with NHS charges and what proportion of the population is covered by insurance that helps them to access NHS provided services?

  Mr Hurn: It is a substantial proportion of the population, in the sense that today are represented here by private medical insurance, cash plans, complementary products and so on. About six and a half million people industry-wide are covered by cash plans and an even larger figure by private medical insurance. It is in excess of 10 million people today and Simplyhealth represent about two and a half million lives as a mutual organisation which in essence has a public concern in that regard. What we represent is predominantly blue collar workers and these people have issues in the cash flow impacts of charges on their monthly cash flow and what we provide is a tool for smoothing that out and enabling them to access NHS services and services surrounding that.

  Q497  Chairman: Mr Hall?

  Mr Hall: As far as the private medical insurance market is concerned, there are just over 3.6 million subscribers to private medical insurance, but those 3.6 million cover a total of over 6.5 million lives, 6.57 million to be precise, which equates to about 11% of the total population. In terms of charges, my view is that because charges have been developed in a fairly piecemeal fashion over the course of the last 50 years I do not think they pass the test of fairness and equity. When I retire my understanding is that I will become entitled to free prescriptions. I do not think that passes that test. I would be more than happy to pay for my prescriptions if that meant that the money I am paying goes back into the NHS to pay for other people in a less privileged position than I. I think that fairness and equity test is difficult now to prove. There is evidence to the contrary, and I think it is difficult for people now to understand the range of charges that are now made because they themselves have not chosen to pay for those; they have been decided elsewhere. The success of our business is made up of providing services, obviously at a charge, that people want to buy and our evidence suggests that there is a willingness by people to pay charges. They may not necessarily be the ones that are currently charged for.

  Q498  Chairman: Would you, for instance, compensate somebody if they had prescription charges or glasses charges under your scheme?

  Mr Hall: We would not, no.

  Q499  Chairman: But you would, Mr Hurn?

  Mr Hurn: We do indeed, and that is 73% of what we pay out across the cash plan industry but, because we are also the largest representation within that group, we are indicative of the industry standard. About 73% of what we pay back is directly related to NHS charges, that is, dental, optical, hospital inpatient stay. The rest of that is made up in what we call POCAH, which is physiotherapy, osteopathy, chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy, something that the previous speakers alluded to. Those are services that people choose to access which they take responsibility for and we help them to access those services as well. What we look at is what the NHS provides, what the major impact of that is and also, being a mutual, we are driven by what our members need to create a format for access to the rest of those services.


 
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