No one needs to convince Rachel of the benefits of private health insurance
Not only is she an award-winning franchisee of a leading specialist health insurer with a century-old heritage, but when recently rushed to her local A&E with a broken leg and ankle she became a victim of the NHS’ overstretched facilities.
“I was waiting for an emergency operation for four days without food or drink,” says Rachel, the Manchester franchisee of Western Provident Association for the past six years and the current WPA Healthcare Partner of the Year.
“I was moved three times and spent a lot of time in a corridor when they were trying to find a bed. Luckily, I had become a WPA policyholder long before I became a franchisee and was able to arrange a transfer to a private hospital, chose the surgeon and have the operation, followed by specialist treatment and physiotherapy.
“If I hadn’t taken that decision, I probably wouldn’t be fully recovered today. It took a personal experience like that to make me realise just how valuable our service is.
“We all love the NHS and we all need it, but more and more people who are self-employed and need to get back to work as soon as possible are finding that health insurance is essential. Basic cover can be as little as £20 a month for up to £50,000 worth of surgery. I pay more than that for insurance for my dog.”
WPA’s origins lie in the early trade union movement. It was started in 1901 as the Reading Working Peoples’ Voluntary Hospital Contributory Fund by a group of workers to cover the cost of members’ healthcare.
After merging with the Bristol Hospital Fund in 1939, the organisation became WPA in 1949. In 1992, it moved to Taunton and now over 80 franchisees look after the health concerns of over 300,000 clients.
Under the leadership of CEO Julian Stainton, WPA has achieved a reputation for industry-leading standards and innovative product development and is one of only a handful of companies to be awarded four British Standards Institute Accreditations.
Not for profit
The company says: “As a not for profit insurer, we choose to commit our interests to improving customers’ experience and ensuring they get the right product for their needs.
“Unique to the industry, WPA has a team of franchisees - healthcare partners - who work as consultants in healthcare solutions, not only selling WPA health insurance products, but actively retaining customer relationships with regular contact and managing their portfolios.
“In £1 billion of claims payments, not a single complaint against WPA has been upheld by the financial ombudsman service. The guiding principle behind the company’s success is to treat all customers as one would hope to be treated oneself.”
Or as Rachel puts it: “I always say I work for my policyholders - I now have over 1,000 on my books - and feel responsible for looking after them and doing the very best I can.”
A single mum, Rachel ran her own successful travel business, but divorce and moving back to be near her family in the north-west meant she needed a change of direction.
“I wanted a new and interesting career, but it was essential it could be fitted around the needs of my daughter, Lydia,” she says.
A friend who was already a WPA healthcare franchisee suggested to Rachel that this could be what she was looking for.
“I already knew and liked WPA,” Rachel remembers. “I was a policyholder already - being self-employed meant private healthcare was pretty important - so it was an easy choice to make.
“When I looked into the franchise, I was very impressed. It offered just the work-life balance I wanted. I can fit my work around looking after Lydia - it’s totally flexible. Yes, the work is demanding, but I like a challenge and you get out what you put in.
“We have fun, too. I like reminding clients that it’s my job to put them in hospital.
“There are many female partners in WPA and several are, like me, single mothers. Another thing that attracted me to the franchise was that we treat clients as if they were our own family. Being a not for profit company means there are no shareholders’ interests to serve.
“The key is that we don’t profit from illness, so the clients know they always come first. We are not claims related, so don’t penalise any clients who have to make a claim. I’m not from a sales background and WPA is not about selling, but providing a valuable service that complements the work of the NHS.”
“When you find the best WPA plan for your client, you are providing a great service, too.
WPA adds: “More people are becoming aware of the importance of private medical insurance due to the increasing demands on the NHS.
“With concerns about waiting times for treatment, access to specialists and financial deficits of primary care trusts, the increasing demand on the NHS suggests the coming year will be one of the most challenging yet.”
Studies show that at least 300,000 people leave work each year due to health or injury, so health and well being have become an important part of company strategy.
“A strong health benefit package not only helps employers make sure they get the pick of employees but can also help retain them,” WPA advises.
Part of the family
The price of a WPA franchise is around £9,000, plus a £2,500 returnable fidelity bond. There are no ongoing fees or charges. The launch package includes full training, a financial support programme, a dedicated mentor and quarterly workshops.
“The staff fall over themselves to be helpful and supportive, “Rachel says. “It makes you feel part of the WPA family.
“The number of doctors who take out policies with us must say a lot for our service. Nearly 75 per cent of 1,000 GPs in one study said they would recommend WPA to family, friends and colleagues over other leading health insurers*.”
Rachel’s concern for the community spills over into her off duty life, too. She has competed in Race for Life events for cancer research and raised funds for spinal injuries charities and a retreat for families coping with serious illness, among others.
“At work, I don’t just sell a policy and forget about the client,” she says. “As the local face of WPA, I carry on taking care of them.
“And that means checking on people when they come out of hospital and even extends to little things like sending cards and flowers. My job is to make clients feel cared for, make them feel special. And that’s easy because, to me, that’s just what they are.”
*Based on a survey of 1,086 consultants, surgeons and GPs engaged in private practice. Conducted by GfKNOP December 2012; 591 responses received (54 per cent).