Private Medical Insurance in the UK, Key Trends and Opportunities to 2017

Date: 2015-09

“Gross written premiums in the private medical insurance category amounted to GBP3.65 billion in 2012, recording growth of 3.2% from 2011, and a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.47% during the review period (2008–2012).

Favorable developments in premiums belie the underlying trends in demand, however. As a discretionary insurance product, supplementary to free-to-access healthcare through the National Health Service (NHS), the number of private medical policyholders has been subject to a downwards trend since 2006 and hit its lowest level on record in 2012, at 5.6 million. Factors driving the apparent shift in attitudes include improved levels of satisfaction with the NHS, increased public healthcare spending, and deterioration in labor market conditions.

The market for private medical insurance is dominated by four insurers – Bupa, Axa, Aviva and Prudential – which have a combined market share of 92%. Despite this concentrated market, a lack of competition between private hospital operators has restricted insurers’ bargaining power and resulted in inflated claims costs. Coupled with the decline in customer numbers, this has been the biggest driver of premium growth as insurers responded to drags on profitability by raising prices for customers.

The consumer shift away from private medical insurance is unlikely to be fully reversed. Nevertheless, favorable forces will underpin a modest CAGR of 2% for gross written premiums over the forecast period (2013–2017). A recovery in economic growth will improve wage and employment conditions, NHS reforms are expected to advance the role of the private healthcare and insurance sector, while the UK’s evolving demographic profile will increase the strain on the public healthcare system.

Improving economic conditions do not prescribe continued growth in the category, however, as the recession-induced demand for lower-cost policy coverage has spurred an increase in the popularity and availability of cheaper healthcare cash plans and self-pay options for one-off treatments. This new market dynamic threatens to divert customers away from comprehensive, but high-premium private medical insurance policies.

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