Is it always better to cough up and get private treatment? Here's what to expect if you're considering ditching the NHS.
What is private healthcare?
Everyone in the UK has a right to free healthcare, provided through the National Health Service (NHS). Some people opt to pay for private medical treatment out of their own pocket. This is known as private healthcare. You can choose to pay for private healthcare through medical insurance, or pay yourself on an ad-hoc basis each time you use private healthcare services.
Why pay for healthcare?
People choose private healthcare for many reasons:
- To avoid long NHS waiting lists for specific treatments;
- The medical treatment required is not available on the NHS;
- The accommodation is more comfortable and often includes an en suite bedroom and TV;
- Nursing care, operating theatre and intensive care treatment is included.
Normally you can choose the hospital and specialist that treats you. Expenses are covered for overnight stays or longer (in-patient coverage) and day-patient coverage (day stays hospital).
So where's the catch?
Going private might seem more lavish than toughing it out on a no-frills NHS ward, but there are drawbacks:
- Private medical insurance only covers curable, short-term illness or injury, so inevitably some illnesses or treatments will never be covered;
- A standard or basic scheme should cover in-patient/daycare treatment, emergency dental work and pregnancy complications, but won't normally cover routine maternity or dental costs.
Many common conditions are not covered by private medical insurance. These include:
- Self-inflicted states - drug abuse, self-inflicted injury, normal pregnancy and injuries arising from high risk hobbies;
- Kidney dialysis, organ transplant, gender reassignment, cosmetic and fertility treatment, outpatient medication and dressings.
Most private healthcare insurers now strongly recommend you call their helplines before embarking on a course of treatment and incurring costs. Most insurers provide a client pack, which includes an insurance certificate, claims forms and a helpline card with relevant contact numbers listed. Costs for outpatient treatment can be redeemed through claims forms.
How much information will I have to disclose?
When applying for medical insurance you can opt for medical history declaration cover, or moratorium cover. To obtain medical history declaration cover you will need to fill out a form detailing your medical history. Moratorium cover does not require a medical, but the insurance company may decide not to cover any existing medical condition spanning the last two to five years.
So how much does it all cost?
Any plan agreed between you and a medical insurer should suit your individual needs, so prices vary a lot from plan to plan. As a rough average, private medical insurance works out at £1,000 per year. You will often be offered a choice between basic, medium and advanced healthcare plans. On minimum cover you can expect to pay around £40 to £50 per month, medium plans average £50 to £60 per month, and advanced plans can cost anything upwards of £65 each month.
As you'd expect, the pricier plans generally cover all health costs for major or minor operations, whereas on a cheaper health plan you may have to absorb up to 50% of treatment costs yourself, or reclaim any money you are entitled to through the claims form process.
Can I get it through work?
Many employers offer their staff the option of private healthcare through reputable private medical care organizations. The employer usually pays for the cost of a corporate medical care scheme. Your employer's HR department or intranet should be able to tell you what options and services are available.
Going abroad for treatment
With private healthcare in the UK often costing more than most of us can afford, a growing number of Brits are heading for sunnier climes to get their treatment abroad.
Routine dental treatments in France, such as fillings and crown replacements, are cheap procedures when compared to UK rates and cost well under £100. Most cosmetic breast surgeries are up to £2,000 cheaper on the Continent, particularly in Spain and Germany.
Written by Mariam Manneh
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