Analysis: Cash plans - can complementary therapies really address employee absence?

Paul Gambon, head of sales at Medicash, says that in companies where stress, presenteesim or absenteeism is a problem or threat, it is important for brokers to promote the benefits of providing cover for alternative and complementary therapies.

“They are not a ‘nice to have’ or a soft alternative to conventional treatments. Rather, it is widely accepted by the medical profession that they can go a long way in addressing serious medical problems that may not have been successfully tackled through traditional means,” he says.

Howard Hughes, head of business marketing at Simplyhealth, thinks that brokers should put more emphasis on alternative treatments when speaking to clients about cash plans.

“Although optical and dental benefits remain the most popular benefits on health cash plans, intermediaries need to think about where additional value can be added. With the rising cost of living and changes within the NHS, complementary therapies have a real place in today’s benefits market and enable employees to attend healthcare appointments, such as physiotherapy and osteopathy, which they may not have been able to afford to attend otherwise,” he says.

Some brokers have switched onto the idea that complementary therapies can reduce absence levels. Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Jelf Employee Benefits, says they can prevent minor conditions, such as back pain, escalating to an absence from work and this alone can justify the spend on a cash plan. Such therapies can therefore be a selling point when recommending cash plans to clients.

“Cover in these areas is not necessarily linked to a recommendation from a GP (unlike private medical insurance and many more traditional treatments), and that potentially makes these treatments more accessible to a wider audience. As more and more people consider the herbal/natural approach to treatment such options can become quite important. However, much of this is down to the communication, as many employers and employees are not even aware that their plan could provide funding for such treatments,” adds Herbert.

Management information

Tom McGuinness, business development and HR director at Premier Choice Group, says the impact that complementary therapies have on absence levels is a somewhat hidden impact.

“Very rarely will a member come in and say that through using one of these alternative therapies they were able to come into work that day, so a client will probably only know how it is working when they marry the company’s absence levels since taking out the scheme up against the management information on the scheme from the provider. It is only then that real feedback can be used to look at how these benefits are affecting absence levels,” he says.

McGuinness says alternative therapies are “most definitely” a selling point, but argues that it is more important to find out exactly what the client wants from their scheme.

“If a client is aware of these therapies and believes that they would be a useful tool to have within their range of benefits then it is definitely something that is very much relevant and so a quite significant selling point. If on the other hand the client wants a much tighter range of benefits then they might choose to go the route of having more coverage on fewer benefits, and really just go the dental/optical/consultation/therapies defined route.”

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