Getting insurance for your car and home comes second nature to most people – it’s just what you do – but, health insurance in the UK is much less common and certainly not a legal requirement. However, with the NHS becoming increasingly strained, more people are turning to the private model to make sure they get the care they require.
Let’s take a closer look at what health insurance is, it’s pros and cons, and whether you really need it.
What is Health Insurance?
Health insurance is an insurance plan for healthcare, that sees you pay a regular amount to an insurance company to cover you if you need typical services that the NHS would deliver, as well as some extras depending on your individual plan.
Health insurance covers the cost of services from private healthcare providers (though sometimes this is within NHS facilities). If you wanted to go private without health insurance, you would have to pay the bills upfront.
1) No Waiting Lists
The NHS is free to all at the point of delivery and paid for by taxes, but this model (particularly with an aging population and government spending cuts), means there is not enough supply to meet demand. There aren’t enough doctors, nurses, and other specialists due to long hours and low pay, and wards are either full or empty because there isn’t enough money to run them. This means if you need to see someone or even have an important procedure, you’ll be waiting.
Paying health insurance (also called private medical insurance) means you have secured the financing for your care when you need it, with little to no waiting time.
You will be able to see a doctor right away, get a quick diagnosis, acquire treatment or medication or be referred to a consultant if needed, and admitted to a private hospital for care, surgery or other procedures without delay.
2) Choose Your Times
As well as not having to wait, you can also choose times for appointments and treatment that best suit you. This means there will be much less interference in your day-to-day life.
3) Choose Your Hospital
One concern with the NHS is that you are usually bound to hospitals in the area you live. This is often called the ‘postcode lottery,’ because some hospitals have a higher standard of care than others and more financial problems than others.
With health insurance, you will have your pick from several high-quality private hospitals. These will provide private rooms that aren’t that different from a hotel, with an en-suite bathroom, a TV, internet connection and entertainment, and a vast food menu. This is much different than the crowded shared wards found in most NHS hospitals.
1) It’s Expensive
The obvious and biggest downside to health insurance is that it’s expensive and most people who don’t have a stable salaried job can’t afford it.
2) It Doesn’t Cover Everything
While private medical insurance will pay for medications and prescriptions, extended time in hospital, surgery, and procedures, you will usually need to pay for a higher plan to get outpatient treatment (i.e. seeing outside specialists and consultants).
Health insurance typically does not cover visits to A&E (so you will still be waiting like everyone else in an emergency), drug abuse-related treatment, organ transplants, and pregnancy.
If you already have a chronic problem, this might also be excluded.
Tip: If you ever find that you aren’t covered for a service that you thought you would be, you might still consider paying for private care by obtaining a loan online.
3) It Can Be Confusing
With the NHS, even if the service can be improved, you know what you’re getting. There are no restrictions. Health insurance can be confusing, and something you expected to be covered might end up not being.
There are two main types of insurance available:
Moratorium Underwriting – is when you only need to provide basic information to the insurer and existing conditions are not immediately covered. After some time passes you may then be able to get them covered, but it can involve jumping through a lot of hoops.
Full Medical Underwriting – typically covers everything, but requires detailed medical history and will end up costing much more if you have existing chronic conditions.
So, Do You Need It?
Nobody necessarily needs health insurance in the UK. The NHS still functions, albeit slower and with many annoyances. It really boils down to cost-benefit. If you can afford it and value the freedom and efficiency it brings, then health insurance makes sense — much more than paying for private care upfront.