In the UK we all have access to professional health care provided free at point of entry by the NHS. Private health insurance (private medical insurance) is an additional service that you can take out to supplement your care. Often seen as something for the privileged few there are policies and premiums available to suit most pockets. But do you need it? Let’s find out!
The benefits of private health care insurance
So what are the benefits of private health insurance? The first thing to remember is that it is insurance and, like home and car insurance, what it covers varies depending on your policy and where you buy it from. Private health insurance is usually taken by people who want to be treated more quickly than accepting the delay on NHS waiting lists. According to Gocompare there are 3,3 million people waiting for treatment. also gives you a degree of choice over the level of your care, where you receive treatment and when you receive it. Insurance also gives you some flexibility over which specialist or surgeon treats you. You will also likely see the same specialist over the course of your care, not different doctors that are passing your notes between them. This kind of continuity can be instrumental in your confidence of the care you are getting.
Basic private health insurance covers most in-patient treatment such as scans, tests and surgery. It also usually covers day-care treatment including surgery. More extensive cover will pay for some out-patient treatment like physiotherapy and specialist consultations.
Things to look out for
Out of the treatments offered privately, not all are covered by insurance. Before taking out insurance it’s advisable to spend time researching exactly what each type of cover offers you. The following conditions and health care are typically not covered by insurance:
- Pre-existing medical issues
- Cosmetic surgery (non-essential e.g. teeth whitening, tummy tucks etc)
- Injuries sustained in combat
- Normal pregnancy and childbirth
- Organ transplants
- Chronic illnesses including diabetes and epilepsy
Sporting injuries and mental health conditions are rarely covered and are usually specific add-ons. If you have concerns regarding anxiety-related issues or depression make sure you look for this in the policy – especially in the exemptions small print.
Does private health care really get you seen more quickly?
The government has set out stringent guidelines as to when to expect treatment on the NHS. In 2017 the maximum waiting time for non-urgent consultant-led treatments is 18 weeks from the day your appointment is booked through the NHS. The maximum waiting time for suspected cancer is two weeks. Going private typically gets you seen more quickly if you are told that your time on the waiting list is likely to be greater than six weeks. This may be longer than you would have expected but consider how much an 18 week wait may affect your life in terms of lost earnings, inability to live your life as before and the chances of you needing to depend on others to help you and your family out.
Is private health care all pros and no cons?
So, aside from avoiding long waiting lists and seeing the same specialist what other benefits are there to private health care? And are there any downsides? Private health insurance can allow you to be treated solely in private hospitals and have access to drugs not generally available on the NHS (some drugs are deemed too expensive for the NHS to provide). With private health insurance you can ask your GP to refer you to a private specialist rather than an NHS one. Physiotherapy waiting lists are much reduced going privately. You are entitled to a private room – this may be important to you if you don’t want to take the chance of being on a ward or mixed ward. Private health care may also appeal if you are concerned about picking up secondary infections such as MRSA although this isn’t guaranteed to be better than the risks in an NHS hospital. The prospect of taking out insurance may be daunting if you suspect that the company may not pay out if you need it – horror stories are fairly frequent in the media. But the independent Financial Ombudsman regulates insurance companies and is a free service which has the power to make a judgment on your claim.
It’s not all pros though. Here are a few cons to consider: While the idea of choosing your specialist or surgeon sounds promising it depends where you live. Certain treatments and a choice of healthcare professionals may be limited or non-existent in your area. If you have been diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as cancer the care you get with the NHS will be as good as – or even better – than that you would receive privately. But arguably the biggest caveat is that the premiums rise year on year as you get older and more likely to need hospital treatment. Typically a 70-year-old would pay three times as more in premiums as a 30-year-old.
Private health insurance can be good value
It should be noted that you don’t need insurance to access private treatment but you may soon be overwhelmed by the speed at which the costs mount up, particularly if you have a serious condition. Insurance comes in really handy if you are diagnosed with serious or several different health issues – being able to make multiple claims will easily offset the premiums you’ve paid in.
Getting the best deal
The market is well-served by familiar household names and others not so obvious. There is a tremendous choice of providers and a slew of policies available. This can be almost overwhelming so using personal recommendations, trusted advice sites and comparison websites are all good options to pursue to find what is best for you and your family. Don’t get sucked in by the freebies and discounts that may be offered for taking out policies, focus just on the cover and premium prices. Some companies will give you lower premiums if you can show you are currently healthy and pursue an active lifestyle. Good luck and we wish you good health!