Private medical insurance (PMI) companies that do not arrange medical treatment on behalf of their members are failing to meet public expectation, according to new research from health insurer BCWA.
YouGov undertook the research in October 2006 among a national sample of 2,275 people in the UK aged 18 and over.
Nearly two-thirds of people expect their private medical insurer to arrange any required hospital visit or consultation with a doctor.
The reality, claim BCWA, is very different as, in the majority of cases, it is the customer rather than the insurer that is left to make the necessary arrangements.
BCWA - which does arrange treatment for its members - suggests that many PMI providers do not understand the needs of their customers and are therefore complicating the process associated with arranging and receiving medical assistance.
And, of those that would expect treatment to be arranged by their provider, nearly two in 10 felt the decision would depend on how serious their illness was and a similar number thought it would be the case if they had more comprehensive cover.
Only one in ten thought that the arranging of treatment was their responsibility, while more than half said they would expect their annual premium to top £873 - the average cost of a PMI policy - to ensure treatment was arranged for them by their insurer if it was required.
More than a third said they would expect to pay up to £100 on top of their annual premium while five per cent indicated they would anticipate having to pay at least a further £200.
Jack Briggs, sales and marketing director at BCWA, says: "Any company that provides a level of service which is at odds with consumer expectation runs the risk of being viewed in a less-than-favourable light, but those operating within the PMI sector have a particular responsibility because they are dealing with the emotive and sensitive subject of people's health. While arranging treatment on behalf of customers may not be the industry norm, BCWA believes anything that reduces the amount of uncertainty and anxiety experienced by a policyholder who is in need of medical assistance can only be a good thing. That is why we launched our Personal Health product.
The Personal Health product uses BCWA's claims handling and customer care methodology, Service+, to provide customers with personal service while reducing the medical costs incurred by BCWA. Through Service+, BCWA speeds up the claims decision-making process with over-the-phone agreements to cover treatment - thereby removing the burden of paperwork - and negotiates the best rates for its Personal Health members and arranges for them to use hospitals within 35 miles of their homes.