Once upon a time, I heard a friend from England remark:
“What is the need for a private medical health insurance when I’ve got the NHS?”
Currently, the NHS provides overall medical treatment cover to all, regardless of their ability to pay. So for some, private medical health insurance is indeed a kind of a unnecessary luxury!
So why is it that many people still go for private health insurance? Is it just to have the confidence that they can be treated in their preferred hospitals by their favorite doctors?
In this article I’ll talk about what private medical health insurance is, as well as some things to look out for when you go out shopping for insurance.
What is private medical health insurance?
Private medical health insurance insures a person against unexpected and ballooning costs of private medical treatment in the case of acute illness or accident.
This insurance comes in many forms, such as individual health insurance, family health insurance, joint health insurance, child health insurance etc.
When looking at the various plans available, you’ll probably see that they differ greatly in cost and coverage.
On the low end, a very basic plan covers only essential treatments. On the higher end, more expensive and complex policies cover complementary medicines and specialized treatments. Some higher cost policies even cover alternative treatment techniques like chiropody and acupuncture!
Generally, the mechanism is similar to any other form of health insurance. Firstly, you buy a plan matching your requirements and affordability. Then every month you pay the pre-determined premium amount. This sum is later used to finance your hospital stay, surgery etc.
What to look out for when buying private medical health insurance
Trust me, choosing a policy can be a confusing venture.
Some policies give you a choice of hospitals; others offer a range of treatment options. Each policy is unique in features and benefits. A policy that suits one person may not be the suitable for another. That’s why one has to be very careful while choosing a policy!
If you don’t have prevalent or current health problem, the best thing to do would be to use a private medical health insurance comparison tool. For example, you could use this tool to check out Bupa prices. This is a much cheaper option than going to a broker, and serves largely the same purpose. You’ll be able to shop around for the best policy at an affordable rate.
Such comparison sites usually host multiple insurers. You’ll be able to get quotes from most of the big players in the market.
Ok great, now that you’ve got the options laid out in front of you, what things should you consider?
1. Make sure you don’t already have workplace health insurance
Before buying a private health insurance from the outside market, check if your employer is already offering one. Many companies in the UK offer it as benefits in kind.
Sure, you will continue paying for national insurance and tax on its premiums but still, it still works out to be a less-costly option than buying private medical health insurance on your own.
It is also easy to get covered. Many a time companies overlook a pre-existing health condition unless it is permanent. However, if you have a long-term health condition and you are already covered by an individual plan, then your employer may exclude you from getting the benefit.
2. Look for a large selection of doctors and hospitals
Don’t make haste in signing on the dotted line!! First check which hospitals and private medical practitioners are covered by the policy in question.
The broader the range, the better. Understand fully which hospitals and consultants would become accessible to you. After paying premiums for months, the last thing you want is driving miles and miles to get treated!
Once referred by a GP, most insurance companies would let you choose the hospital and medical consultant on your own. It shouldn’t be a problem being treated in a hospital in the vicinity. However, if you don’t mind limiting your choices, you might be able to negotiate for a lower premium with the insurer.
3. Don’t be afraid of paying higher premiums for a lower excess amount
The excess is the amount of your claim that you pay yourself even if you are insured. This amount varies from policy to policy and usually declines as the premium rate increases.
In some policies you have to pay this excess once a year; in others, every time you make a claim. No matter which type of policy you choose, never go one that has too high of an excess amount.
There are many insurers who’ll encourage you to opt for a high volume of excess so that you can enjoy low premium rates. But remember, this is often a trap! If you go down this route, you might find yourself in a quandary about making a claim in fear of paying the excess. In that case, what’s the point of getting insurance in the first place?
4. What are the exclusions?
Insurance coverage always includes some exclusions and private medical health insurance is no exception. However, these exclusions are typically obscure and not easy to find out. In most of the cases, they will be written in a tiny font at the bottom of your policy document.
Your private medical health insurance is going to cover any health problem that develops after you buy the insurance. Old health problems are covered only if you move from a company scheme to an individual one.
Usually, long-term diseases like asthma, high-blood pressure and diabetes are excluded from any private medical health insurance coverage. Similarly, cosmetic surgeries and pregnancy-related treatment are also not covered.
Read the fine print carefully and check if you’re ok with these!
5. Does it offer a 24-hour Helpline?
A 24-hour helpline can be a great relief to some. However, not all insurers are offer this. It’s often considered a value added service that an insurer provides to its clients.
How it works is this:
You can call the helpline number anytime you’re in need of assistance. It’s true that the customer care representative sitting at the other end of the phone line cannot treat you immediately or make any prescriptions. But he/she can better inform you about the health condition that you’re experiencing.
You can also call this helpline number if you’re feeling bothered about any insurance related-matter.
Setting up helpline infrastructure usually involves huge cost and not every insurer can bear that. Alternatively, some make available newsletters, fact sheets etc. to provide their clients regular health related updates. This is also a bonus that you can look out for.
Be it a call center or newsletters or anything else but make sure your insurer company has resources available to assist their clients in an emergency.
The bottom line
I hope I’ve provided some clarity on what to look out for when selecting private medical health insurance! As with most things in life, don’t rush the research process. Insurance is something that deals with big life items and will stick with you for a very long time! Getting it right at the start is absolutely essential.
So, what did you look for when getting private medical health insurance? Or do you think it’s even necessary at all? Let me know in the comments!