Long Read  

Health cash plans are still prioritising people over profits 70 years later

Health cash plans are still prioritising people over profits 70 years later

Seventy years ago healthcare mutuals and not-for-profit organisations had just undergone a major evolution, from starting out life in the late 1800s as funds to support local hospitals, to becoming the health cash plan providers we know today when the NHS was born in 1948. 

Throughout all those years and various incarnations, they have remained steadfast to the same overriding purpose: making everyday healthcare services affordable and accessible to their members (employees and customers) and supporting those in need in their local communities. 

Health cash plans offer services that complement the NHS or, as explained by Shelley Rowley, chief commercial officer at BHSF: “Many of the policies help customers with their everyday health costs that do not come free or easy on the NHS, such as dental, optical, therapies, mental health consultations and more.”

So, bearing in mind today’s need for organisations of all shapes and sizes to articulate and live their environmental, social and governance credentials, it could be argued that healthcare mutuals are as relevant now as they were at both their inception and rebirth. 

While many organisations are gradually getting to grips with the E in ESG, the S has arguably been overlooked – maybe because it is much harder to define and there is simply no blueprint.

What is certain is that the S is about people, it is about supporting diversity, equity and inclusion.

It is about ensuring the engagement of all of an organisation’s stakeholders (employees, customers and the communities in which they operate); engagement that does not come from values on a wall, but rather from living and breathing an authentic, trusting and purpose-filled culture.

In the words of Martin Shaw, chief executive of the Association of Financial Mutuals: “Mutuals were authentic long before it became trendy.” 

And in a world where competitive differentiation is difficult to achieve through product alone, it is people, the service they provide, and the ideas and energy that they contribute upwards and outwards that will separate the winners from the losers.

With that in mind, it could be argued that healthcare mutuals need to better articulate – or rather change the thinking around – their competitive differentiation.

According to a report commissioned by the AFM, 71 per cent of members said that mutuality is acknowledged but not understood by their members. While 90 per cent said that mutuality is less about the title and more about the culture, values and actions.

The 'absence of shareholders' difference

A big aspect of the competitive difference, that has always been communicated by mutuals and not-for-profits, is the absence of shareholders. Consequently, the reasoning goes, the notion of ‘people over profits’ is genuine and tangible. 

Indeed, this was demonstrated admirably during the pandemic. 

For example, Sovereign Health Care highlights that it chose not to use the government furlough scheme, paying all staff as normal and continuing to give to local charitable and NHS causes.