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Naked Crunch

It is difficult to resist the temptation to write about the credit crunch as it continues to remain at the forefront of media attention, leaving the vast majority of the public unable to escape the coverage.

Every time there seemsto be a moment of respite, the next wave of gloomy news hits. The stories are no
longer confined to financialservices but are rippling
out into other sectors such as travel, housing and health, with a particular concentratio n at the moment
on the cost of food and the shift in our shopping habits
as we begin to feel the pinch. PruHealth recently commissioned research looking into the health of the
nation and found that more than 10 million people in the
UK are finding that the rising cost of living is putting pressure on their health and wellbeing, with 60 per cent
claiming to be unable to afford the perceived added expenses of being healthy.

The research showed that 65 per cent of people believe
that healthy foods are more expensive than other options
and more than 10 per cent of parents are buying less
fruit and vegetables than they used to.
Cost is not just having an impact on food choices.
The research also shows that it is considered a barrier
to exercise for almost a third of people in the UK, with 14
per cent saying they currently cannot afford to take exercise classes or participate in paid-for sports activities.
Given the afore-mentioned propensity for doom and gloom stories at the moment, the research will probably
come as no surprise but it does shine a light on the
impact of the credit crunch for the average man on the
street.
With the potential for the credit crunch to affect
both what we eat and how much or what type of exercise
we engage in, the scenario of a credit crunch followed
by a health crunch is starting to look like an increasingly
likely chain of events that private medical insurers
can little afford to ignore.
The last thing we want is healthcare consumers
to respond to a financial squeeze by cutting back on
their healthy lifestyle choices because they view them
as an added expense.
Cheaper conveniencefoods and a cancelled gym membership may be quick and easy options to cut back on costs but the long-term effects should be a worry for consumers and the
healthcare industry.
It was interesting to read report by Reform which called for every adult in the UK to be given a healthcare protection premium of £2,000 a year to invest in health insurance and paid out of general taxation.
Extra services such as gym membership and rebates for healthy living would be offered by health protection
providers to attract buyers.
The report has received a mixed response but for the
private sector it demon strat es the continued importance
of the role that private medical insurance providers
play in the delivery of healthcare and protection
for the population.
Regardless of whether this role evolves as a result of the report, at the very least the recognition is
extremely encouraging and the debate about the future of healthcare in the UK is a welcome one.
The report highlights the healthcare systems of note in
several countries across the globe and the importance
of incentivising individuals to look after their health
and well-being.
The storm clouds that have gathered over stockmarkets
across the world look unlikely to disperse any time soon. While we ponderthe long-term effects of economies fighting under the weight of bad debts and what seem to be almost
daily doses of bad news, the debate about the future of the health insurance industry in the UK looks set to continue.
For us at least, the debate can be more positive. Is this
because we are immune to the credit crunch? No. But is it possible for us to withstand the crunch and look forward
to a successful future? Yes.
Private medical insurance is too important a subject
for society – and not just the experts – to not debate.

Shaun Matisonn is chief executive officer
of PruHealth

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