According to a CBI survey, smaller companies consider this to be their most appreciated benefit. Not surprising. Everyone values their health, and NHS waiting lists continue to grow longer.
What's more, health insurance brings cost benefits to employers, who can't afford to have staff off work and stuck in queues for medical treatment. In 2006, employees took an average of seven days off sick each year, the CBI found, costing the economy £13.4bn.
Before making healthcare purchases, consider how much cover you actually need, and for whom. Decide what the provision should cover: just acute illness, or chronic and long-term sickness? You may also want to consider risk benefits, such as personal accident insurance or income replacement schemes.
These decisions will be influenced by your staff profile and company culture. Some private medical insurers providers charge low premiums to young companies , which are seen as low risk. Others calculate risk according to postcode - so you're high risk if based in London, and low risk north of the border.
There are two healthcare options; private medical insurance (PMI) or health cash plans. PMI's are popular, desirable – and expensive. But they can be streamlined, as companies choose the areas of cover most appropriate to their staff and lose the rest of the portfolio options. You can also cut costs by introducing an excess, so that the employee agrees to contribute some cost. Cut even more by restricting policies to exclude family or post-retirement cover.
Health cash plans are the alternative to full health insurance. Costs start at around £1.30 a week, compared with around twice that amount for minimum PMI cover. Cash plans are easy to set up, and employees don't need to take medicals to qualify. They aren't insurance; instead, they pay out cash for an agreed range of NHS benefits. The portfolio includes cover for days spent in hospital, sight test, maternity, physiotherapy, dental treatment and specialist consultation.
You may want to consider providing a counselling service for staff - in an ever-stressful workplace, it's a growing trend.