Vitality’s report looks at claims they received during 2022 and analyses the most common claims. The report also looks at current trends and what these could mean for health insurance customers and the insurance industry generally. They aim to provide insights that allow insurance companies to tailor their private medical insurance policies and enable customers to use their health insurance coverage more effectively.
It’s important to remember that Vitality’s health insurance prioritises promoting a healthy lifestyle and rewards customers for improving their health. The information contained in their report may not reflect other health insurance companies’ experience.
Lifestyle is a significant cause of ill health
The most recent NHS waiting list figures paint a bleak picture. 7.7 million patients are currently awaiting elective care, and just under 400,000 have been waiting for over a year.
The idea that poor lifestyle choices are overburdening the NHS isn’t new. An NHS report from 2013 found that 80% of premature deaths in London resulted from preventable conditions caused by lifestyle choices.
One of the main benefits of private medical insurance is that it allows customers to access a quick diagnosis and treatment without the NHS waiting times. However, health insurance can also provide tools to enable people to live a healthier life and prevent health issues from arising.
Vitality’s brand encourages its health insurance customers to improve their health by offering discounts and rewards to members who reach their well-being goals. However, other providers are beginning to follow suit by providing benefits which enable clients to eat well or become more active. Many health insurance providers now offer discounts on gym memberships, fitness tracking technology, health assessments and smoking cessation support.
Vitality’s claims insights revealed that ill health often motivated their members to improve their lifestyles. They found that new customers who were less active upon joining increased their activity levels by around 50% after claiming for treatment.
Private medical insurance providers offer services, including access to a virtual GP and mental health support. You can also benefit from outpatient physiotherapy and optical and dental coverage, depending on your chosen policy. Vitality’s data found that 60% of all their claims came from patients using these services. This includes 10,000 GP consultations each month, a 300% increase since 2019.
This doesn’t come as a surprise, given that consumers are finding it increasingly difficult to get an appointment with their NHS GP. Most virtual GP services operate 24/7, meaning that some people may choose this option to get an appointment that fits their work and family commitments.
A survey by our partners at myTribe Insurance in August 2023 found that waiting times for treatment via the NHS, alongside GP waiting times, topped a list of worries people have about healthcare in the UK.
Free dental and optical care is available depending on your age or if you receive certain benefits. However, many of us now pay privately for dental and optical treatment, so adding it to our health insurance can be a cost-effective choice.
It’s estimated that 12.7% of all workplace absence results from mental health issues. Prompt treatment can help workers with depression, anxiety, or stress return to work more quickly or avoid an absence altogether. However, increased demand for NHS care means they may wait longer for treatment and experience worsening symptoms. The number of patients in contact with NHS mental health services increased by 16.2% between 2020-21 and 2021-22.
If consumers have a history of depression, that can prevent them from accessing support, as health insurance will exclude it as a pre-existing condition. Vitality now disregards pre-existing psychiatric conditions for members seeking counselling.
Counselling has a significant impact
Research has demonstrated that counselling is as effective as medication in resolving most mental health issues. Vitality’s findings bear this out. Claims for counselling and talking therapies have increased since 2015, but claims for other psychiatric treatments, including in-patient treatment, have dropped. 99% of members who received counselling didn’t need any further treatment, suggesting that early intervention has had a positive outcome.
What’s more, the use of talking therapies has also reduced costs. Vitality found that spending on mental health claims has decreased by 32% since 2019.
Younger people are getting cancer
1 in 2 of us will get cancer during our lifetime. This is typically because we’re living longer; 90% of all cancer diagnoses are still in people aged over 50. However, new trends are suggesting that more people under 50 are now being diagnosed. There was a 22% increase in 25 to 49-year-olds being diagnosed with cancer between 1990 and 2018.
Vitality reports dramatic growth in the number of claims for cancer treatment from customers under 50, with 1 in 4 claims coming from this group. 65% of their cervical cancer claims and 33% of breast cancer claims come from women under 50. Men in the same age group have a higher prevalence of skin cancer.
Early cancer diagnosis improves outcomes in various types of cancer. Health insurance has a vital role in enabling patients to get a quick diagnosis. It’s one of the reasons we recommend our customers add some outpatient cover to their policy, as it allows them to access a private diagnosis and get a treatment referral quickly.
The NHS provides various screening programs based on age and individual cancer screening for patients with a relevant family history. However, health insurance providers also include some private health screening as part of their standard policies or discount programs. Vitality has recently added an online risk assessment to its services, enabling high-risk patients to access screening as necessary.
Digital tools are changing how we access healthcare
We’ve already mentioned that private health insurance customers are already using virtual GP services to access convenient appointments quickly. Many private health insurers also offer video consultations with physiotherapists and telephone support from mental health professionals and nurses.
Digital technology has also changed the claims process. Vitality’s report mentions their Care Hub, where members can claim online. Providers across the insurance industry typically offer an online claims service. Many also provide an app that customers can use to book appointments, start claims and access various services. However, most insurers still allow customers to contact them by phone if they prefer. It’s essential to bear in mind that digital-only services may be a barrier to some consumers.
The future may bring more advances in the use of digital technology. Some diagnostic tools now offer a remote diagnosis. Data analysis can provide a more patient-focused service where private healthcare providers can use data to improve outcomes.
Get professional advice
Choosing the right private medical insurance means finding a policy that suits your circumstances and budget. We’re specialist, regulated brokers providing tailored advice to help you make an informed choice. We regularly review the UK health insurance market to stay up to date with the benefits and services that private health insurance providers offer. Contact us for a comparison quote.