Residents in the UK are entitled to free healthcare from the National Health Service. However, many people choose to take out private medical insurance; but what exactly does this type of medical insurance policy cover, and how do you decide whether you really need it?
Some employers provide health insurance as part of their employee benefits package. If you are not in receipt of this type of benefit then you may decide to pay for health insurance yourself. Private medical insurance generally provides you with more options with regard to who provides your care, and when, and will cover the majority, if not all, of your medical bills.
Health insurance providers generally offer a number of policies with different levels of cover. A basic policy will pay for the majority of in-patient treatment and surgery that is carried out on a day-care basis. If you are prepared to pay higher premiums then you can also purchase policies that cover out-patient care, and some pay you a fixed amount for every night you spend in an NHS hospital.
When taking out healthcare insurance be sure to read the policy terms and conditions very carefully as there are a number of things that private medical insurance will not cover. These include; cosmetic surgery designed solely to improve your appearance, injuries that are a result of taking part in dangerous sports or acts of war, standard pregnancy and childbirth costs, organ transplants, chronic illnesses such as epilepsy, hypertension, diabetes, illnesses related to HIV/AIDS, and other pre-existing medical conditions. However, policies are available that will cover mental health issues such as depression, and sports injuries.
Although British citizens receive free healthcare via the NHS health insurance can be useful in a variety of situations. Perhaps you prefer not to wait for NHS treatment (at present patients wait an average of eight weeks for hospital treatment), or you simply prefer the more comfortable surroundings of a private hospital? Alternatively, you may need cover for treatment and drugs that are simply not available on the NHS, for example specialist treatment for sports related injuries.
Although private health insurance may be beneficial for some, others may simply not need it. You may already be in receipt of health insurance cover via your employer, or you are simply happy to rely on the NHS for any treatment you require. Perhaps you are on a relatively low income and have debts, and other, more important, outgoings to pay for. It is worth bearing in mind that you always have the option available to you of paying privately for individual treatments, which can be cost effective if you have enough savings to cover the cost of this. If your dependants are your primary concern remember too that children receive priority treatment via the NHS.
In general, health insurance can be worthwhile if you are in need of specialist treatment, for example, if you are a professional sportsman or woman and you require access to experts and surgeons who only work privately. Private medical cover can give you more flexibility with regard to your healthcare; you can ask your GP to refer you to a consultant of your choice, and ask for a second opinion. You can also arrange to be seen much more quickly, and choose a hospital that best suits your needs. Most insurers will also allow you to request scans if they have previously been denied to you, and be given more expensive drugs and treatment that simply are not available on the NHS. You also have the option of having a private room should you need to receive in-patient care, and improved access to physiotherapy sessions should you need them.
Before you sign on the dotted line remember that private healthcare insurance will not cover chronic illness that are incurable; these include some cancers and diabetes. If you do contract a serious illness such as cancer, or heart disease, you will receive priority treatment via the NHS without having to pay. Some policies specify which consultants and hospitals you are allowed to receive treatment from so you are still restricted with regard to your choice of healthcare provider to some extent. Healthcare insurance is also expensive, and premiums will rise every year as you grow older so you may not be able to afford it at the time you will most probably need it the most.
If you do decide to pay for private healthcare and would prefer not to commit to regular premiums then, rather than take out a full healthcare insurance policy, you can choose to pay for some, or all, of your treatment on an as and when basis. You could also pay for a private consultation if you prefer a second opinion; in this case the consultant will then simply refer you back to the NHS for any treatment they advise.
Health insurance can be of real benefit for some individuals, but it is important that you take time to fully understand what healthcare policies do, and do not, cover. Assess your personal needs and requirements carefully, and if you do decide to take out private medical insurance make sure that the policy suits your personal circumstances and lifestyle. After researching healthcare insurance you may find that an alternative insurance policy, for example, income protection insurance which pays out a regular sum should you become seriously ill and unable to work, may be more advantageous.