As UK residents we are fortunate enough to have access to free healthcare through the NHS – a luxury compared to some other nations who have no choice but to pay for the privilege of being treated for an injury or illness. However, despite the fact that the NHS provides comprehensive medical treatment to anyone – regardless of their ability to pay, it doesn’t stop an estimated 4 million people in the UK from paying out for Private Health Insurance, also known as Private Medical Insurance (PMI). You may also be interested in our “Refusal On The Frontline: NHS Workers Avoiding Coronavirus Tests” article.
Well despite many feeling that private health insurance is an extravagant and unnecessary expense, others argue that the greater choice of hospitals and consultants, coupled with reduced waiting times, makes the cost worth it. But is it?
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons:
- You could get quicker access to scans, consultations and treatment – although it is worth noting that when it comes to serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease for example, you won’t be seen any quicker than you would be as an NHS patient
- You might be able to choose a specific surgeon or hospital
- You could get your own private room
- You can request specialist referrals
- You might have access to medication or treatments not available on the NHS
- Cover can be expensive and that cost will only increase as you get older
- Chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and some types of cancer might not be covered
- Existing medical conditions aren’t usually covered. Some plans will allow you to include existing conditions as an add-on, but this can be expensive.
Ok, so it seems that what mostly puts people off taking out PMI is the cost – and if your waiting times for appointments, treatments and scans are comparable with the NHS when it comes to serious illnesses, why do people bother?
Maybe it’s the extras?…
What Does Private Health Insurance Cover?
Like most insurance policies it depends on the type of cover you buy and whether or not you add on any optional extras. Basic policies tend to cover the cost of in-patient care like scans, tests and surgery, along with some basic aftercare.
More expensive plans offer outpatient care such as access to specialists and consultants, and some will even pay a fixed amount for each night you spend in hospital.
So what can you expect to be offered as standard? Well of course insurance policies vary by provider, but most will offer cover for the following:
- Hospital accommodation
- Nursing care
- Inpatient treatment
- Outpatient treatment
And what isn’t covered…?
- Pre-existing medical conditions (although some will offer cover if you’ve had no symptoms or treatment for at least 2 years)
- Long-term conditions
- Conditions such as pregnancy, transplants, drug abuse etc (this varies by insurer)
You’ll be unsurprised to learn that more comprehensive health insurance is going to cost you more – but obviously you’ll be getting more bang for your buck. The levels of cover offered by most insurance companies can be broadly defined as basic, intermediate and comprehensive. Let’s take a look at each:
The most basic (and cheapest) level of private health insurance is treatment-only cover. This will generally cover the cost of your treatment, surgery, medication and accommodation – but nothing diagnostic such as scans or consultations. Some basic policies also provide cancer care cover.
This type of cover is known as treatment and limited diagnostic cover and does what it says on the tin – covers your treatment and some limited diagnostics. These include consultations, tests and x-rays. Every insurer will have a slightly different definition so it’s important (as with any type of insurance) to look at the terms and conditions when comparing policies.
The most comprehensive and therefore most expensive type of health insurance is treatment and full diagnostic cover. This covers treatments costs and unlimited diagnostics, consultation tests, scans and x-rays
Regardless of which policy you decide on, is it worth the money?
Is Private Health Insurance Good Value For Money?
This really depends on your circumstances and how much you value the benefits on offer. The major advantage is a faster referral process, and for many this reason alone makes it worth the expense. Another big draw for people is the possibility of having access to treatments and medication that isn’t available on the NHS.
Really the best way to decide if private health insurance is worth it to you is to decide what you would be prepared to pay for the benefits offered and then get some quotes to see if they match up.
Which Is The Best Policy?
Private health insurance is a competitive market, and it’s not as easy as just picking the cheapest plan – you need to compare the cover that each insurer provides. Also, you need to decide on the type of cover you want (basic, intermediate or comprehensive), and then choose the level of excess you are willing to pay; the lower the excess the higher the premium will be.
But that’s not all – you’ll also have to choose whether you want a fully underwritten policy, or a moratorium policy. But what’s the difference? Basically you either choose to disclose all your medical information, or not….
A Fully Underwritten Policy
This is where you provide all of your medical information to the insurance company in order for them to fully assess you. It might take longer for your cover to start, and there might be exclusions applied – BUT you will know exactly what you are covered for from the very beginning. It’s also worth knowing that a fully underwritten private health insurance policy is normally cheaper.
A Moratorium Policy
This type of policy only requires you to give limited medical information, and so it’s usually quicker to get your policy up and running. This makes applying for a moratorium policy more convenient – but you won’t be clear on what you are covered for as you would have been if you had been fully medically underwritten.
If I Decide I want Private Health Insurance, Where Should I Go?
When it comes to getting quotes for private health insurance it can be a tricky process because there are so many different types of cover available. You’ve no doubt heard of the most popular private health insurance providers, such as Bupa and AXA PPP, so you could always contact them directly for a quote, or, in order to not miss out on some of the lesser-known providers there are price comparison websites you can check out – just as you might if you were looking for car insurance, for example.
When it comes to any type of insurance, it’s always best to speak to a financial advisor if you are unsure of anything. Their advice is at their cost, and they have access to insurers that might not be available on comparison websites.