More than half of schemes discriminate against common law and gay couples, says report
More than half of all UK corporate private medical insurance (PMI) plans discriminate against unmarried couples, according to research carried out by employee benefits consultant William M Mercer.
The survey examined 527 company schemes and found that only 48% of plans allow membership to include common law spouses and only 44% offer cover for same sex partners.
Steve Clements, European partner at William M Mercer, said: 'Surprisingly, a significant number of plans appear to be out of tune with current social trends. As things stand, many employers could be accused of acting unjustly as a large proportion of partners are not allowed membership.
'However, with the increasing emphasis on equal treatment and inclusiveness, there are signs that more companies are looking to address this issue.'
Standard Life Healthcare is one insurer that does recognise unmarried couples. Claire Ginnelly, national account manager at the group, said: 'When we quote for any type of scheme, we allow common law spouses and same sex partners as well as married partners.
'We changed our rates from a married to a couple rate a few years ago, purely because we felt it was wrong to discriminate. From a risk point of view, we cannot see any difference and we expect more firms to see this.'
The study also revealed that a growing number of companies are offering cover to a greater proportion of their employees. Some 40% of employers now extend full cover to all employees, not just senior management.
But despite this, only 75% of full-time and 57% of part-time workers accept company membership. Clements said this was not surprising due to the cost factors involved.
'The low take-up rate, even for full-timers, could be down to the benefit-in-kind tax charge and, in some cases, duplication of healthcare benefits between spouses,' he said. 'Part-timers face additional costs since employers' contributions are often made pro-rata, according to the number of hours worked. This means they must make up the balance from an already below-average salary.'
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