BMI does concede there could be better information on pricing. But in a thinly veiled attack on insurers it concludes: “The referral to the Competition Commission will impose immense costs on the industry and is based on a flawed analysis, driven by certain segments within private healthcare wishing to use the regulatory system to advance their own narrow commercial interests.”
It's difficult to denigrate firms for pushing their own commercial interests.
It's hard-wired into the politico-economic model. What else is BMI doing?
Healthcare insurers have now arrived at the moment the motor cover world reached two decades ago with repairs. Car insurers realised that costs could not keep rising exponentially. The motor market took the garage industry in hand.
Of course, there are differences. There are scores of motor insurers and thousands of repair shops. There are only a handful of PMI providers, private hospitals (the repair shops) are few, with no real choice in some parts of the country. Doctors (the mechanics) have powerful restrictive practices, coupled with lobbying power others can only envy.
But if PMI can't tame the hospitals and doctors, there will be no PMI left.
Private medical insurers need to show they are blasting away at costs, that they are the bulwark between private patients and private healthcare providers, protecting their policyholders against ever increasing and often hidden costs. This is no more than enlightened self interest– exposing how doctors and hospitals have worked together to bring bills that are among the highest in Europe cannot do other than good.
The hospitals and doctors wish PMI providers would go quietly away. They are being urged to “seek self-pay shoppers” at a time when “scores of private hospitals” have “seen a welcome rise in non-insured patients”.
What does that mean? Readers can provide their own answers. But it could mean that doctors and hospitals prefer a patient who will not or cannot question the bill. If the rise in non-insured patients is welcome, then they must be more valuable. There may be a more innocent explanation – that these new patients have come straight from the NHS.
Self-pay is, of course, a basic right. Unlike third party motor insurance, there is no obligation to buy PMI.
But self-payers can rarely shop around (unlike drivers needing repairs). And few will have any idea of the final bill. It's time for the PMI industry to make a strong case that it can control the costs of hospitals and consultants. It's time for insurers to become visible consumer champions.