Insurers warn premiums could rise if doctors put up charges

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The Independent Online

High-risk insurance customers face higher premiums as a result of doctors' demands to be paid more for writing reports and conducting medical examinations.

A three-year agreement between the Association of British Insurers (ABI) and the British Medical Association expired in March. It allowed doctors to charge insurers £30.10 for a report and £42.80 for an examination. The BMA is understood to have asked for these charges to be raised to £66 and £132 respectively, but under negotiation has brought its demands down to £46 and £87.

Dr Peter Holden, chairman of the BMA's professional fees committee, said: "We have not discussed exam fees yet, because there is a question as to what constitutes an examination. There is no straight answer."

However, a spokesman for the ABI insisted that it was still working on the basis of the old fees and discussing upgrading the quality of information doctors provide.

He said that the present fees cost the insurance industry £25m to £30m, and added: "Raising premiums is the one thing we want to avoid.... But an increased cost for insurers, if significant enough, could mean higher premiums. On the other hand, if we have to judge applications on the basis of less information, we may have to underwrite more conservatively. This could mean higher premiums for those with medical problems."

But Dr Holden retorted: "The medical profession is sick and tired of being told market forces apply all the time, but when it comes to the medical profession we are told we cannot put up our fees. What they pay us is trivial compared to what they pay their intermediaries for selling policies."

Neither side was willing to estimate when the negotiations might end. Meanwhile, some doctors are applying the old scale and others are unilaterally raising their fees.