Headlines: August 25th, 2004

A report published today claims private health insurers are failing to cover vital cancer treatment and that in some cases treatment is being withdrawn suddenly, often at a critical time, when patients are at their most vulnerable. It has been produced by the cancer information charity CancerBACUP.The charity surveyed 14 private medical insurers. Of the eight that responded, including all the UK’s largest insurers covering more than two thirds of the PMI market, the charity found that only BUPA covered cancer patients throughout the course of their illness.

CancerBACUP also conducted a separate ‘mystery shopping’ exercise, and found that medical insurance sales staff provided misleading information to telephone customers. Staff from three of the eight insurers reassured callers that their policies would pay out for any type of treatment, when in practice they did not. In other cases, sales staff from the same company gave contradictory information.

The survey results in the report show the majority of private health insurers are unclear about if and when cover will be withdrawn. Many companies use the phrase ‘active treatment’ to explain the extent of their cancer coverage, but the report says that phrase is not defined by them or easily understood by consumers.

Joanne Rule, Chief Executive for CancerBACUP, says that most insurers are able to be vague about the level of cover they provide and can decide whether or not to fund cancer treatments on a case-by-case basis but that this cannot be allowed to continue.

CancerBACUP is calling on the Financial Services Authority to review the selling of private medical insurance, for which it will be responsible from 2005 onwards. It is also calling for PMI companies to be clearer about the extent to which their policies cover cancer and it wants them to adopt a more up-to-date definition of what is meant by active treatment for cancer. It is suggesting the definition should be “treatment intended to control the growth of the cancer with the hope of prolonging good quality life” as away of reflecting the growing number of treatments that can contain cancer for some time, even if they cannot cure the disease.