By Linda Mckay
Published: 12:11 BST, 22 March 2013 | Updated: 15:00 BST, 28 August 2013>
I have reached an age when health concerns start to rear their head and I am worried about NHS waiting lists, the ease of seeing a specialist near me after reading of the 'postcode lottery' and how much it might cost should I need an operation.
Does private health insurance have to cost an arm and a leg?
Expensive: I'm worried about the cost of medical treatment - what are my options for insurance?
Linda Mckay of This is Money replies: Once upon a time the private health insurance market was limited but with the advent of cost effective competitors and price comparison websites people like yourself have more choice.
There are policies now tailored for those in certain age brackets, some even come with life cover so your family may benefit if the worst happens.
But first of all you need to decide if you really need private health cover. And can you afford it? I asked our panel for advice.
The Association of British Insurers replies: If you only have spare cash for basic insurance, like car and home insurance (and life insurance if you have dependents) it may not be for you. If you have debts to repay and no savings you should put your money towards those, rather than private medical insurance.
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Check to see if you already have medical insurance through your employee benefits package.
Private medical insurance needn't be expensive and there are plenty of cheap plans available. Premiums do tend to rise the older you are.
There are also health cash plans. These will contribute towards your routine healthcare costs. They work by paying out a cash sum whenever you visit a dentist or other medical practitioner, such as a chiropodist or optician.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
If you have savings you could use this to pay for part of your medical costs if needed – around one in five private patients do this.
Hip and knee replacements cost an average of £10,000 each, while MRI scans cost from £600. You can shop around for scan prices – your GP can help you do this.
You could just pay for a private consultation if you want an expert or second opinion.
Then, if necessary, your consultant can refer you back into the NHS for treatment.
Many policies charge excess – the portion of any insurance policy you must pay yourself. So one option is to choose a medical insurance policy which offers a wider range of benefits but which enables you to select higher excess. If you take this route, you could end up paying for treatment for a long time without reaching the excess level.
Before buying cover, find out exactly what benefits the policy you are interested in will pay out. If you opt for a very low cost plan, then the chances are it may only pay hospital admission costs, and not outpatient costs.
Check that the policy wording – some come with an approved list of consultants and hospitals this may not include the consultant you want to see or a convenient location for treatment. Restrictions brought in by leading health care firm Bupa last year include a list of approved consultants. AXA, PPP has now imposed caps on a number of procedures and also introduced a list of approved doctors.
Some patients have also found that their insurer has set time limits on treatment, typically 12 months.
Linda Mckay adds: Despite the talk of lengthy waiting lists, if you have a serious illness such as cancer, heart disease or stroke, you’ll get priority NHS treatment.
Private health insurance can be expensive depending on the policy and the company you choose and the price will go up. A typical family premium (two adults in their 40s and two children under 10) can vary from £700 to £1,650 per year. The costs of care to the insurer also go up every year and patients may not get the service hoped for.
Some insurers will stipulate that pre-existing conditions are exempt from cover. Policies will not cover pregnancy, organ transplants, chronic illnesses such as Aids related illness, or injuries relating to dangerous sports.
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