January 13, 2021
By Arjan Toor, CEO, Cigna Europe
Every industry has been impacted in some way, shape or form since the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a global pandemic in March 2020. The private health industry and the intermediaries that serve it have had their fair share of challenges since the outbreak in January. Like many businesses, they are fighting their way through COVID-19, planning for long-term survival while tackling (hopefully) relatively short-term critical issues.
The role of data-led analytics has been crucial in helping to define response strategies for the pandemic. For businesses, the main objective is to develop a strategy that supports clients and ensures employees can work in a safe environment.
Data is leading the way
Throughout the pandemic, data has been fundamental in providing insights into all aspects of the virus – from tracking the spread of the virus, flattening the curve and monitoring outbreak clusters. In the health care sector, data has been just as valuable when it comes to understanding the impact COVID-19 has had on both public and private health care and defining appropriate response strategies.
At the peak of the pandemic, it’s estimated that there was an 84% drop in privately funded care with oncology making up an estimated 63% of all privately funded admissions in May 2020. Private hospitals had been supporting the NHS - an obvious priority over and above the demand for privately funded health care. With this shift in focus came an influx of delayed treatment, cancelled policies and financial concerns for funding private care long term.
As we continue to navigate our way through the pandemic, data-led insight remains at the helm, driving insurers and intermediaries to focus on two key priorities:
1 - To provide reassurance, advice and guidance via open and honest communications to support their clients
2 - To create new and valuable tools to further enhance private health care, making it more accessible during a global crisis
Offering a financial support package
For intermediaries, there are two major issues to consider that will directly impact their clients: elective medical and dental procedures might have been reduced or significantly delayed and many businesses have been hit hard financially. Clients look to intermediaries for guidance on matters including how they can make the most of their current health plan when there’s a temporary pause on procedures, what does this mean for their premiums and will they lose out financially from having invested annually on their company health plan?
By closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic, and using insights provided by data, Cigna Europe has been working together with intermediaries to offer a one-month premium waiver. This will ease the financial burden that the current pandemic has had, and will continue to have on employers, as well as the broker community. By acting proactively, insurers and intermediaries are supporting their customers while ensuring that they receive fair value from their policies.
There’s more to private health care than just facilitating procedures
Cigna Europe’s COVID-19 Pulse Survey found that people in the UK are going to change how they manage their physical (28%) and mental (24%) well-being as a direct result of the pandemic. So, for clients looking to make the most of their current health plan during a period of low plan usage, virtual health tools can play a key role in looking after the physical and mental well-being of their employees. While virtual health tools aren’t new to the playing field, it has seen a staggering increase in usage during the last six months, with Cigna Europe reporting a 500% increase in usage for virtual GP appointments between February and March 2020.
Being able to access GP services without the need to physically step foot in a doctor’s office is a key driver of the uptake, particularly during the current pandemic. Cigna Europe’s COVID-19 Pulse Survey found that a staggering 75% of Brits would actually prefer to use virtual health tools over physical GP appointments.
Virtual health tools open alternative avenues to access care. Forty-two percent in the UK use virtual health to order prescriptions to have them delivered to their home or workplace, and 38% use it for general health support and 34% for mental health issues. 66% would prefer, or consider, using both virtual health and traditional health care for a referral to a specialist.
Virtual GP appointments aren’t the only feather in the virtual health cap. Many virtual health tools provide access to a wealth of health and well-being resources, not to mention online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) platforms. These tools are designed to help people build resilience and develop skills to better manage stress and anxiety - to be calmer, more confident and in control.
Fast access to quality care and a smoother patient journey are major benefits when it comes to virtual health. This ultimately shifts their perception of their health insurer, from simply a company that facilitates private health referrals, to a health provider that’s focused on the whole health of their customer.
A whole health approach for continuous, all-round support
As we continue to move through the next phase of COVID-19, privately funded medical and dental consultations and procedures are gradually returning, which is both good news and good timing. Private health care has always been available to complement the NHS, crucially helping to relieve waiting times and ease the burden for the overused service. The impact COVID-19 has had on the NHS has resulted in a massive backlog of around 10 million people who are predicted to be waiting on care by autumn 2020.
As a result, private health care will now be looking more and more appealing to allow quicker access to treatment. For intermediaries, they’ve been working hard to provide support to their clients during this crisis, offering valuable advice and guiding decision making, ensuring it’s as easy as possible for their clients to access all of the services and tools available to them as part of their health care plan. Now is the time for intermediaries to encourage clients to put their employee’s physical and mental health at the top of their well-being agenda, to get ahead of the game and be in the best of health going forward. They’ve signposted the other great benefits of a private health plan - access to a wealth of health and well-being resources, virtual health tools, virtual GP consultations, online CBT and a team of nurses on hand to help navigate through health concerns.
And for health insurers, their job is to take a whole health approach when it comes to developing and enhancing their proposition. This ensures they are committed to creating better futures for their customers, with a focus on combatting chronic disease and obesity, improving resilience, and reducing stress levels and emotional health issues.
As always, data-led analytics remains at the centre of the private health industry to ensure the care and delivery of the service to clients and customers remains effective, affordable and personalised – not just as we emerge from a global pandemic but as a permanent solution for the long term health and well-being needs of the population.