Unfriendly view of health care: A friendly society terminated Janet Purry's medical cover after she had made claims. Caroline Merrell investigates

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The Independent Online
A PRIVATE medical insurance company refused to renew a customer's contract because of the level of her claims, even though she was not up to the policy limit.

Janet Purry, a part-time council secretary from Blandford Forum in Dorset took out a private medical insurance contract with Unity Health Care, part of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows Manchester Unity Friendly Society about two years ago.

She paid pounds 1 a week and was covered, among other things, for up to pounds 200 a year for chiropractic and osteopathy, pounds 112 a year for in-patient care and pounds 200 for optical care and dental treatment.

For one year the contract was through a group scheme offered by her employer. After one year, she switched to taking the cover through an individual plan.

She was particularly interested in benefits offered under the osteopathic option as she had suffered from recurring neck pains and headaches since 1986 when she had an accident.

When she moved over to the individual plan the friendly society asked for details of her condition, which she gave, and she was accepted for another year under the scheme.

In total, over the two-year period, she claimed benefits worth under pounds 150 a year.

Treatment she received involved cranial manipulation to relieve recurring neck pains and headaches that she had suffered from since 1986.

Ms Purry said: 'I have an on-going condition that the health service doesn't provide a service for.' She said that she found that the treatment she received was the only way to relieve her condition. She paid about pounds 17 for each half-hour session and needed treatment regularly.

However, a couple of weeks ago Ms Purry received a letter from the friendly society saying that it no longer wished to cover her under the policy. The letter invited her to reapply for the policy, but said that she would have to wait six months before she could make any sort of claim.

It added that she would not be allowed to claim benefits relating to her condition.

She said: 'They have simply changed the rules. Their attitude would seem to go against the whole point of medical insurance.' The friendly society said that the refusal to renew her policy was part of the on- going control of claims.

The society added that it looked at all of its claims when they came up for renewal. Any particular policy in which the claims experience was higher than normal, would not be renewed. Friendly societies were originally set up to provide benefits for people on a low income.

A spokesman for the friendly society said that it had refused to renew about 10 per cent of the health insurance policies because of high claims experience.

The spokesman said that under friendly society rules it was not allowed to price each policy individually. If it was it would be able to cover higher risk cases at a higher level of premium.

Other health insurers, which are not constrained by friendly society rules, have different attitudes about the effect of the high level of claims.

Norwich Union Healthcare said that it clearly stated in its literature that it would not withdraw cover from individuals because of the level of claims.

Niel Roberts, managing director of the private medical insurer Medicus, said that it operated its scheme in a different way.

'We offer a no-limits approach. People should look for full cover when choosing their policy.' Both the policies are more expensive than the one offered by Unity.

(Photograph omitted)