Most of us have more than a passing respect and gratitude towards their GP, but unbeknown to most people, a few GP’s are taking significant gambles with their patients and their families finances.
When a person applies for life insurance, in some instances, before the insurer can offer cover they need more information about the customer medical history. As an example it will not normally possible to get life insurance for somebody who has had a suicide attempt to get covered until the insurer has received a report from the customer’s doctor.
Obviously doctors have other more important work to be done and for this reason they are not compelled to respond immediately, however the British Medical Council (BMI) also understands the importance of ensuring that people get life insurance in place, so that patients have the peace of mind of making sure their family and home are secure should the very worse happen. Therefore the BMI issue guidelines that state that any requests for medical reports from insurance companies should be returned within 20 working days. While the vast majority of GP’s meet this guideline there is a significant percentage who do not.
As a company that deals with people with all kinds of medical issues that make it difficult for them to get life insurance, we deal with a fair number of cases each year where a medical report is required before a policy can be issued. As stated most are turned around within the guideline timescale, however a straw poll in the office estimated that between 5% - 10% of GP’s still have report request outstanding for more than 3 months.
This can make a very stressful situation for a customer even more so, as they wait month after month for their life insurance to be issued. While thankfully a rare occurrence, given the number of people we help, we have had people contract significant illnesses that prevent them getting cover while they have waited for their GP to return the medical questions. Regrettably we have even had customers die.
Again, while recognising their workload, doctors are paid very well by the insurers for producing these reports with a typical fee ranging between £50 - £100 a time. We do our best to make the slower GP’s aware of their risks their patients could be facing, but we like to do it from a position that it is a mutual benefit, however some insurers are now taking a completely different stance.
Rather than requesting a traditional medical report, many insurers have started to get their customers authority to issue a Subject Access Request (SAR). Unlike the BMI guidelines, SARs are enshrined in law via the Data Protection Act 1998. A SAR must be completed in 40 days and failure to do so is a breach of the law. Any organisation that finds themselves constantly in breach of the Data Protection Act can expect a significant fine. A further interesting point is that the maximum fee that can be charged for completing a SAR is just £10.
Our personal view is that SARs are a step too far and are not in the best interests of the customer, as there is a significant concern that more personal information than is necessary could be available to insurers who have no interest (and therefore no right) in it. Information other than that which is strictly necessary could be sent and ultimately fall in the hands of the wrong people.
Having said this, it is easy to understand why a guaranteed response to a request for information is returned is far more preferable to insurers and their customers, than the lottery of hoping that the customer has the right doctor. All kinds of conditions will require a medical report, suicide attempts, heart conditions, seizures and fits to name but a few. Surely these people need a response that is quicker than most.