Private health plans discriminate against married couples


Private health plans "discriminate against unmarried couples"

Unmarried partners continue to be barred from membership of private medical plans, with over half of employers restricting cover to legally-married couples, according to a large-scale survey by William M Mercer, the human resource consultancy.

The 527-company survey shows that only 48% of companies permit membership by common-law spouses, while only 44% cover same-sex partners.

"Surprisingly, a significant number of plans appear to be out of tune with current social trends," said Steve Clements, European partner at William M Mercer. "As things stand, many employers could be accused of acting unjustly, as a large proportion of partners are not allowed membership. However, with the increasing emphasis on equal treatment and inclusiveness, there are signs that more companies are looking to address this issue."

The 33-page survey also found:

  • 50% of survey respondents pay for their employees' health insurance, but do not contribute towards the cost of other family members.

  • 46% pay for full family cover

  • 3% pay for employees and their spouses

  • 1% share the cost with employees

  • the average cost of membership is £314 for individuals and £691 for family membership.


Membership no longer confined to managers

      "The trend, in recent years, has been to extend private healthcare down the organisation. At one time it was restricted to senior management; today it is offered much more generally throughout the company." — William M Mercer.

Four in ten companies offer private medical insurance to all employees — not just managers and other senior employees. Among those employers which have changed their eligibility conditions in the last three years, the vast majority — seven in ten — have done so to extend scheme membership.

Low take-up

      "The low take-up rate, even for full-timers, could be down to the benefit-in-kind tax charge and, in some cases, duplication of healthcare benefits between spouses." — William M Mercer.

Membership of private medical plans remains modest: only 75% of full-time workers, and 57% of part-timers join their company scheme.

Want to know more?

Title: UK Private Health Plans and Policies, William M Mercer.

Survey sample: The survey of 527 organisations is one of the most comprehensive studies of employer-sponsored healthcare undertaken in the UK.

Availability: The survey report, which costs £225, is available from Monica Charles-Batson, tel: 01372 385368, on email:

Read the press release online at . . .

William M. Mercer is the UK’s largest human resource and employee benefits consultancy, employing over 3,500 consultants and support staff in 19 offices across the UK.

To find out more about Mercer visit . . .