Health insurers expected to gain big business.

Health insurers have been given a major boost with the government’s announcement that it will allow patients to pay for private drugs without losing their right to NHS care.

Several recent high profile cases in which individuals lost access to the NHS after paying for potentially life-saving drugs privately have gone a long way toward a policy U-turn that is expected to be announced today.

As reported in the Financial Times, the moves will be announced today by Health Secretary Alan Johnson. But the story also said that some would see the package as “undermining a key National Health Service principle – that patients should be treated entirely on medical need, and not ability to pay.”

The FT said the government intends to establish a “risk-sharing” agreement with the pharmaceutical industry, in which expensive new drugs would only be paid for if they actually worked for the patient. Another option is initially offering drugs at a lower price, then raising the cost if they prove effective.

The Association of British Insurers has said that private medical insurance could have a major role to play to help patients to take advantage of new drugs and other treatments. For example, some new cancer drugs are largely unaffordable but through top-ups, health insurers could make them more accessible.