Strong growth last year at Bupa signals improved conditions

The individual private medical insurance (PMI) market could be starting to recover after years of decline, health insurers have said.

Fiona Harris, head of personal markets at Bupa, said: “We saw strong growth in 2007 and we also saw growth in January.

“We are potentially seeing a change in that [declining] trend. We used to see 3% deterioration [year on year], but are now seeing a change.”

Continued dissatisfaction with the NHS has been cited as a key reason for the individual market’s change of fortunes.

Charlie MacEwan, a spokesman for insurer WPA, said: “Things have improved [with the NHS] but not as much as people hoped, so people are more open to buying PMI.”

Earlier this month Datamonitor, in its annual report on the UK private medical insurance market, said the individual PMI market grew by 4.1% in 2006, following a decline in 2005.

The increase was driven by an increase in policyholders and a rise in average premium.

Datamonitor’s report contradicted findings of healthcare consultancy Laing & Buisson, which said last year that the individual market declined by 2.2% in 2006.

It added that the number of individual policyholders had fallen to a low of 1.1 million at the end of 2006 from a high of 1.5 million in 1996.

High premiums have been blamed as a key reason for the decline in the individual market. The growth of corporate health cover is also seen as a contributing factor.

Insurers have been looking at ways to make individual policies cheaper, through the use of excesses and no claims discounts.