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The pros and cons of private health insurance

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When access to the National Health Service is free of charge, what makes people choose private health insurance?

There are of course a number of pros and cons to private health insurance.  Let’s take a look at some of them below before you decide if this option is right for you.

Advantages of private health insurance

Cut the waiting times

One of the primary factors in choosing to pay for your healthcare.  The NHS aim to complete most operations 18 weeks from referral, but due to various pressures don’t always meet this target.  And even just getting an appointment to see your GP can be a struggle.

Typically, with private health insurance you’ll get to see someone within 14 days, and where relevant, treatment will be provided shortly afterwards.

More choice

Private health insurance gives you the right to not only choose your consultant/surgeon but also where the treatment is provided, rather than being sent to your nearest NHS facility, although the variety of choice on offer may be dependent on the level of cover.

Private facilities

Being on a shared ward may make you feel anxious if you require a hospital stay, but with pressures on space at NHS hospitals, there isn’t much other choice.  Private health insurance will typically give you access to a private, en-suite room to make your stay a much more comfortable experience.

Less restriction for guests

The NHS places restrictions on visitors entering hospitals (this is done for a variety of reasons) so when family and friends come to visit you, they must do so during the dedicated visiting times.  A private hospital will give your visitors much more freedom to come and go as you please.

Access to specialist treatment

NHS patients may be denied access to specialist drugs or procedures for treatment due to the high cost involved.  Paying for your care privately may open up these options for you.

Disadvantages of private health insurance

Cost

The price of health insurance is the obvious barrier for many people.   The NHS offers free healthcare for all UK residents no matter what the problem, so paying for private care is often seen as a luxury that only a small minority can afford.    Most providers will offer different levels of cover so it’s worth finding out what these include so you can decide if you are getting good value for money.

Policy restrictions

Whilst paying for private health insurance can give you access to a wide variety of treatments, some of which may not be offered by the NHS, it does still have its limitations.  This may well be dependent on your level of cover but it’s worth noting that not all health problems will be covered, particularly if you have an existing medical condition.  Although most providers will offer you a choice of location and consultant, this may be more limited on basic policies.  Expect to pay a higher premium for more flexibility on your policy.

You’ll still need to use the NHS

Private health insurance does not cover accident and emergency services so if you require urgent attention you will still need to visit your local A&E department.  Whilst private maternity care may be available, this does not generally come as standard so would either come at an additional cost or you would be expected to use NHS services.

Having to choose a provider

How do you know which private healthcare provider offers the best service at a price you can afford?  If you’ve never had a private health insurance policy before it can be a difficult decision to make.

If you are considering a private health insurance plan, then it may be wise to speak to an independent insurance specialist who can advise you of the different levels of cover available and help you to work out which would be suitable for your needs.  Most policies can be tailored depending on your requirements, and of course this could impact the cost.  An insurance specialist will help you to find an insurance policy to match your budget.

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The above post is intended to be informative but does not constitute advice – financial, legal or otherwise. Any opinions given are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of SO Media.

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