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Harnessing Health Screening: My political out of body experience

Charlie Campbell, Policy Adviser, Protection, ABI Charlie Campbell, Policy Adviser, Protection and Health, ABI

You can probably guess that when you hear the remark, made with some surprise, that insurers seem to be ‘’obsessed with data and the public’s trust in using it’’, it was made by someone from outside the industry. You would of course be right. That was the first reaction of a politician, and audience member, when I asked him what he had made of our ‘Future of Health Screening’ event earlier this month.

We heard some excellent views on the past, present and future of Health Screening and what it could mean for insurance, with - as I have hinted - trust in the use of health information by insurers a prevailing theme. I won’t dwell on the detail and what it means for insurers – it’s not the ABI’s role or expertise to suggest what those discussions should mean for product innovation. However, we do seek to identify where current insurance practice and opportunities for insurance innovations might interest policy makers and align themselves to government policy.

As you might expect, I didn’t have the ear of said politician for long. But I can have a go at guessing what opportunities he might have identified after the speakers all finished and he was deep in discussion with other attendees. So, here’s a stab at three.

  • Firstly, I would have seen an industry with a real interest, understanding a concern for a healthy society and the impact of changing healthcare needs. I may think, ‘hey, insurers really do like it when the people they provide financial cover for stay healthy – and what is more, so do we in Government!’
  • The second thought I may have – during my out of body experience as a parliamentarian – could be that “there’s a bit of a funding crisis going on with the NHS right now, which doesn’t look like abating any time soon. In fact, analysis by Monitor suggests that NHS Trusts delivered an aggregate financial deficit of £1.6bn over the first half of 2015/16. What’s more, Simon Stevens, the NHS head honcho, has called for a new partnership between the public, the government and the health service, involving action on three broad fronts, one of which is prevention – maybe that’s an ambition insurers can really help us deliver?’’
  • My last thought might consider a challenge: “Trust in insurers is pretty low – fragile, according to a recent study by the Wellcome Trust. Clearly insurers are worried that what trust they do have could be eroded with greater use of health data. The public concern might be that insurers want to use health information to push up their premiums. But maybe they will feel happier to give their data away if, in return, they were offered something they feel would benefit them on a day to day basis and which helps them keep out of hospital and away from their GP. That would certainly be welcome by Jeremy and Simon’’.

So, there are some of the possible thoughts of a policy maker looking on at last week’s wide ranging discussion on the future of health screening, the opportunities and the challenges. Even though I’ve improvised, due to the brevity of my exchange with said politician, those were the themes emanating from last week’s event.

On his way back to the House of Commons for Tuesday night votes, a final thought and question for our politician to ponder could follow like this: “As an industry, insurers are right to be both excited by the opportunities of greater data and exercised by the challenges of trust when that data is used to the benefit of the consumer. Publishing claims data, dispelling myths and engaging with politicians and regulators are all crucial to advocating the huge benefit that insurance brings to the health and protection of society.

“But insurance is unique in being an industry where sharing and using health data is in the interests of government, the customer and insurer. Where else does that happen?’’

Charlie Campbell is Policy Adviser, Protection and Health, at the Association of British Insurers (ABI)

Last updated 29/06/2016