Budget’s tax freeze on health cover is hailed

By Robin Stride

The private healthcare industry sighed with relief after its strong pre-Budget lobbying helped stave off a further rise in insurance premium tax on medical cover.

Now it will step up its campaign to get the Government to consider the wider implications of generating revenue from taxing health insurance – and to commit to making it totally tax-exempt.

Fears of a damaging rise from 12% to 20% were rife as it was revealed that the tax on health insurance had cost the NHS millions of pound.

Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries (AMII) chairman Stuart Scullion highlighted new research by Bupa and economics consultancy Cebr showing previous hikes in the tax had driven thousands of people to cancel or downgrade their health cover, costing the NHS £126m a year.

He said a relieved AMII was now urging the Government to make healthcare spend exempt from this tax like other zero-rated insurance such as life or critical illness.

‘The Government should be encouraging the purchase of private medical insurance as a means of reducing the strain on an already overstretched NHS, not pushing thousands of people back onto it.’

Welcoming the freeze, Bupa Insurance chief executive Alex Perry said at 12% the tax was still too high. And when businesses or individuals cancelled health insurance, they were solely reliant on the NHS, putting it under more pressure.

‘We believe health insurance should be zero-rated like life or critical illness insurance. As an industry, we need to highlight the negative impact this tax has on people choosing to do the right thing by insuring their health and continue to campaign for fairer tax treatment of health insurance.’

Private healthcare strategy expert Ted Townsend warned that private hospitals and clinicians would still be pressured by insurer claim and pathway management policies although ‘it could have got worse’.

Doctors and their advisers also breathed a sigh of relief after the Chancellor avoided raising the pension tax take, freezing pensions’ tax relief and leaving the annual allowance unchanged.

But Andrew Pow, of the Assoc­iation of Independent Special­ist Medical Accountants, said there was no respite for NHS consultants with earnings of £110,000 and over, who remain locked into potentially paying punitive annual allowance tax charges.

Specialist financial planners Cav­endish Medical’s Dr Benjamin Holds­worth reported doctors were breathing a sigh of relief. The lifetime allowance will rise from £1,030,000 to £1,055,000 for 2019-20.

A further boost to independent doctors was not scrapping entrepreneurs’ relief, as speculated. But qualifying conditions are stricter.

If a doctor sells part of or all their business, capital gains tax drops to 10% from the standard 20% if they have owned it over a year. This qualifying period extends to two years from April 2019.

But an immediate restriction means shareholders must have at least a 5% stake in their company’s profits and net assets to be eligible. Dr Holdsworth advised: ‘Many doctors build up successful, profitable businesses and should plan their exit strategy carefully. Entre­preneur’s relief can be useful, but early planning of all your available options is important.’

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