This month we have the pleasure of chatting with Dr Geetha Muralee, one of our outstanding independent health insurance consultants based in Middlesex. Dr Muralee talks passionately about her time in the industry, what expertise she anticipates people needing in the future and where she sees the industry going as a result of recent trends…
Hi Geetha… Tell us a little bit about yourself, your life, how you got into industry?
I was born and raised in India, where I eventually trained to become a Doctor. Having decided to move to the UK to practice Medicine and specialise in Anaesthesia, I spent some years here before moving to Saudi Arabia for six years where my husband worked for the Military Hospital in Riyadh. Being there for the Gulf War was the particular highlight, or lowlight – whichever way you want to look at it!
Upon returning to the UK I decided to use my Medical knowledge and experience in the world of insurance. I spent 15 years at Bupa working on their field sales team, looking after individual, SME, corporate and VIP Clients. In 2010, I made the decision to start up my own brokerage firm – MGM Health but as Appointed Representatives of Premier Choice Group.
I am married with one son and have lived in North West London for several years. I enjoy cooking and entertaining, reading, cricket and travelling.
What a fabulous background… What are your specialties/areas of expertise?
With over 20 years of experience in healthcare, financial protection and insurance, I am now able to say that I specialise in several areas in these fields. This includes Medical insurance, Financial Protection (such as Life Insurance, Critical Illness), Travel, Cash Plan, Dental and also International Medical schemes for those who are mobile and want peace of mind across the world.
Given my experience in different countries I am also able to advise on healthcare provision and solutions in different countries, especially in Asia. In-country regulations are becoming ever more complex; as people are being increasingly mobile, governments are finding new ways to earn more tax through mandatory healthcare provisions – what this means for consumers is that finding the right, and most compliant solution, is now more important than ever.
I specialise in both consumer and corporate plans, both of which vary significantly. A big consumer challenge is for those who are leaving their company-paid plans and looking for continuation policies which do not penalise them on an underwriting basis – this is an area that I am well versed in too.
Who can benefit the most from your expertise i.e. Who do you love to talk to?
The biggest perk of my job is that I am able, and delighted, to talk to a huge variety of customers. On the consumer side, this might be someone looking for insurance for the first time having no idea what is the most suitable product and which provider is best to use, or someone who has an existing policy and is looking for a better deal either in terms of cost or benefits, or both. On the group side, I regularly talk to company secretaries and HR personnel who are either looking for new solutions, managing their existing plans or expanding geographically and seeking compliant international schemes.
I also particularly enjoy talking about Financial Protection, as this is very important and is a complex area that customers often find very confusing – it took me a while to understand it myself! It is very important for both individuals and businesses to ensure their financial security, and is an area well worth seeking advice on.
Having worked in sales for many years now, spending a lot of time on the phone and face-to-face with customers, I can honestly say that I love talking to anyone seeking advice or guidance. My family will tell you that I talk a lot – perhaps that is a major contributing factor!
Give us the 3 most important tips for people looking for advice and guidance right now?
The insurance market is more competitive than ever before. Coupling this with the fact that medical inflation is showing no signs of slowing means that providers are becoming more and more wary of benefits and claims, as their margins decrease.
My first tip would be to always be aware of the policy that you have – make sure you read your membership guide and the small print. It is very common for one to take out a policy only to find out that the small print excludes what they actually wanted the policy to cover them for. If in doubt, seek advice before purchasing any policy.
The second tip is to seek advice or guidance when your policy is due for renewal. You may not always be on the most appropriate plan for yourself or your family – after all, circumstances change. Don’t hesitate to seek advice in case you want to know more about what options are available and how they might benefit you. More often than not, this advice is free of charge and is worth seeking.
My third and final tip is to make sure you seek advice before looking for any sort of cover which involves being out of the UK. Whether this is Travel insurance or International Medical insurance, coverage abroad is often much more expensive than at home and it is critical that you have the right policy in place in case you have any problems whilst travelling.
And what is the key trend you see affecting clients over the next 12 months?
The biggest factor affecting my clients over the last few years, especially since the 2008 financial crisis, has been the cost of insurance. I don’t foresee this changing over the next 12 months and for the foreseeable future. Of course, with a potential government change in the offing, budgetary changes may have some effect; it has been quietly mooted that tax breaks for those holding private insurance may be offered. Such changes may affect the insured demographic, although I don’t think this will manifest itself significantly in such a short timeframe.
In the short term insurers will implement more measures to protect their margins – this is likely to have the biggest impact on medical insurance customers. Examples of this might include restricting the choice of private hospitals available, limiting benefits, being directed to specific doctors and clinics, etc. For this reason, it is even more important to seek advice before purchasing a medical insurance policy, just so you can be made fully aware of any restrictions you may have if and when treatment is necessary.
What do you think the health insurance industry will look like in 10 years time?
As a Doctor myself and having worked in the NHS for many years, I can safely say that the system has changed considerably over the last 20 years. Whilst there is a lot of press about waiting lists, postcode lotteries and hospital closures, it is still a robust system albeit bearing a huge strain in terms of patient volume.
For this reason, I think the next 10 years will see quite a significant balance shift between primary, secondary and tertiary care. GPs already have far more control than they used to, and this is a trend I see continuing. At the other end of the scale, as hospitals look to free bed space as quickly as possible for the next patient, healthcare and nursing at home will become far more prevalent.
The cynic in me would say there is a reasonable chance that the NHS will be part-privatised in 10 years time. Whilst this would of course change the insurance industry in an unimaginable fashion, it would have an even bigger impact on the patient. The thought of having to pay a nominal fee at the point of entry to hospital makes me tempted to say – let’s cross that bridge in 10 years time!
Thank you Geetha for those amazing insights. It has been an absolute pleasure to chat with you and to share in your wealth of knowledge.