Private health or medical insurance policies provide cover for the costs accured for private medical treatment for curable, short-term medical conditions. In essence, it allows you to jump the NHS queue for minor, non-life threatening conditions. It isn’t an alternative to the NHS. For example, private hospitals don’t have casualty departments, and do not necessarily provide a better service or care, but it does enable you to get the treatment more quickly and at a time and place to suit you.
What is covered?
Private health insurance will cover the costs of specialists, surgery, drugs and X-rays, accommodation and nursing bills in a private hospital or in a private ward of an NHS hospital. You will get better facilities, better food and a private room often with a phone and television.
It doesn’t generally cover long term illnesses like asthma, diabetes and multiple sclerosis, for example, nor will it cover pre-existing medical conditions. In other words, you can’t buy medical insurance today for an operation you know you’ll need in a few months’ time. Policies also generally refuse to cover the cost of treating conditions such as alcoholism/drug abuse, AIDS/HIV, infertility, normal pregnancy or cosmetic surgery.
There are different tiers of private health insurance plans, from budget to standard and then comprehensive. So, as well as comparing price, it’s important to determine what each level of policy covers you for.
Some insurers will accept people of any age whilst others have an age limit. However, the older you are, the more expensive it is. This means it tends to price people out of the market, just when they need it most. For the older generation, you can usually guarantee two things.
Firstly, if you’re over 50, your premiums will start to rocket and, secondly, insurance companies tend to deal in hard facts so even if you’re going to the gym every week, eat the correct foods and are, seemingly, in the best of health, you’ll generally be viewed as equal a risk as a couch potato eating junk food.
That said, health insurance companies have started to realise that people are living longer and are, in general, taking better care of themselves than in past generations so several reputable companies have begun to properly focus on the older generation by offering different sorts of private health insurance plans. However, shopping around is the key for the over 50s when considering the merits of a particular private health insurance plan.
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What about the NHS?
For many people, private health insurance isn’t an option so what do we get from the NHS?
Well, the NHS’ services are paid for out of the taxes we pay and are free at the point of delivery for all those who qualify. It provides the majority of healthcare in the UK from visiting your doctor (GP), having free access to accident and emergency departments, long term health care and dentistry, although the latter only provides free treatment to a certain extent. The advantage of the NHS is that it is available to everyone.
Those who take out private health insurance, they don’t do it as a replacement to NHS services but mostly as a top up to what the NHS can provide. For the majority of those who have private health insurance, it can cut waiting times by offering certain operations and procedures more quickly and the facilities are usually of a higher standard in the majority of private hospitals.
There are many companies offering private health insurance so it is important to seek advice first to ensure that you purchase the most appropriate cover for you. An independent private health insurance broker will usually be able to advise you.