Since the first of April, residents of Jersey who have become ill while visiting the UK have had to pay for certain healthcare services that they would have received free at any point during the preceding 30 years.
The ending of the reciprocal health agreement with the UK, which also affects residents of the other four larger Channel Islands of Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm – as well as UK visitors travelling to these places – has given some Jersey-based banks and insurance companies a new market to cater for.
A similar reciprocal deal between the UK and the Isle of Man expires on 1 April next year.
This new market is, insurers are quick to point out, not a particularly vast one, given that Jersey’s population is only about 90,000, and that together, the four Channel Islands contain only about 160,000 residents. The Isle of Man’s population is around 81,000.
As a group, the residents of all six of these offshore islands could just about fill the new London Olympic Stadium three times.
Yet while the numbers involved may be relatively small from a corporate marketing perspective, “for residents of the Channel Islands, [the end of the reciprocal health agreement] is quite a big deal,” says Chris Burn, the Jersey-based insurance product manager for NatWest.
The bank has added UK cover to existing travel insurance schemes that it includes in its range of ‘packaged account’ services for its customers, as well as those offered by its sibling group companies, RBS International and Isle of Man Bank.
Adds Axa’s marketing manager of overseas operations, Karen Teasdale: “It is both a significant health insurance and travel insurance market, because everyone in the Channel Islands who travels to the UK is affected by this change – and vice-versa.”
Estimates have placed the total value of the reciprocal health agreement to Jersey over the years at about £3.9m, since the UK has treated more Jersey residents in its hospitals than Jersey has visiting Britons. The imbalance was less when the health agreement was signed back in the 1970s – when huge numbers of UK residents used to spend their holidays in Jersey – than it has been lately.
A&E care still free
Some treatments, such as emergency care in NHS A&E departments, continue to be free to UK visitors from the Channel Islands, and vice-versa.
But cross-Channel travellers now have to foot their own bills for any operations, outpatient appointments and other services needed as a result of any accidents, as well as repatriation if needed.
One of the companies that has moved to accommodate this new niche is UK-based insurance broker Towergate Chase Parkinson, which is offering a policy to Channel Islands visitors on the Jersey tourism website, www.jersey.com. The policy is underwritten by AXA Insurance UK.
Visitors to the website’s homepage are taken to a page with information about the policy if they click on the heading of a box that notes that “Jersey no longer has a reciprocal health agreement with the UK, so to ensure peace of mind, visitors from the UK are advised to have comprehensive health and travel insurance.”
The policy provides up to £2m worth of medical cover for visitors to any destination in the Channel Islands, and also covers day trips to France.
The NatWest offering for its packaged accounts customers is slightly different, in that it is part of a general travel insurance policy that is provided alongside other banking, ‘lifestyle’ and insurance benefits in exchange for a monthly £9 fee.
The packaged accounts to which the additional insurance benefits have been added are NatWest’s Advantage Cheque accounts, RBS International’s Royalties Cheque accounts, and the Isle of Man Bank’s GOLD accounts, Burn said.