How much does private health insurance cost and should I have it?

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Private health insurance is an insurance policy designed to meet some or all of the costs of private medical treatment.

For an average buyer of health insurance in the UK, aged 33 years old, the prices range between £26 and £48 per month or £312 and £576 per year according to the four largest health insurers in the United Kingdom; AXA, Vitality, Aviva and BUPA. 

Private healthcare offers a greater level of choice with regards to when and where you can access treatment, which doctor or specialist you get to see, and the type of treatments you can access, including some treatments that are not available on the NHS.

There are of course various factors that affect the premiums you will be asked to pay. 

Factors that affect the cost of UK private health insurance

·         Your age

·         Your health status e.g. do you smoke? Do you have any pre-existing health conditions?

.     Your lifestyle

·         Your postcode

·         Cover levels and limits

The typical cost of private health care is dependent on two major factors which are your personal circumstances, and the policy options and cover levels that you want to go for.

Your personal circumstances mean your age, where you live, whether you are insuring just yourself or your whole family, the type of lifestyle you have, and your health status. It also includes things like your choice of lifestyle. (Note here that even if you quit smoking but still use a vaporiser, it’s possible for your premium to still be higher than that of a non-smoker. This is due to the fact that insurance companies tend to ask about nicotine consumption instead of specifically asking if you smoke cigarettes.)

How much do individual private health care treatments cost?

Here is a list of the average costs of some of the private health care treatments in the United Kingdom for someone without health insurance-

  • Knee replacement – £11,434
  • Hip replacement – £10,761
  • Cataract surgery – £2,425
  • Varicose vein surgery – £2,585
  • Cardiac pacemaker insertion – £4,925
  • Hernia repair – £2,695
  • Skin lesion removal – £1,045
  • Coronary angiogram – £2,066

Private health care treatment is accessible without insurance if you are prepared to pay the costs of individual procedures or operations.

Nevertheless, when the highest priced private knee replacement in the UK is £15,410 and a single CT scan can cost up to £960, the costs of paying for private healthcare this way, are prohibitively high for most people. 

Prices vary from Hospital to Hospital

Private healthcare is charged at differing rates dependent on which hospital you choose. This could be as a result of various factors such as differing accommodation charges and facilities. The prices also vary depending on where in the country your hospital or treatment facility is located.

Insurers however do make efforts to keep fees fair for anyone who uses their health care facilities.

They are able to carry this out in different ways:

  • First, they have a negotiation with hospitals so as to ensure that prices do not rise beyond control.
  • Second, insurers put the hospitals into various groups – each insurer calls their groups different names but they amount roughly to a group of the most inexpensive hospitals, a middle class and a group of the most expensive hospitals.
  • Then, you select the set you want, which obviously means you’ll pay more for an expensive hospital than a cheaper one. 

Whilst you do on the surface get choice to suit your budget with these arrangements, the downside is that if you are living near a large city, you might realise the closest hospital to you is grouped in the expensive category by your insurer and that you may have to travel further afield to access a cheaper one.

For instance, Vitality’s lowest category (locals) includes all hospitals in the UK’s largest hospital groups, Nuffield Health, BMI Healthcare, Spire Healthcare, Aspen and Ramsay Health Care.

The next level up (Countrywide) includes most of the other private hospitals located outside London, every NHS private patient unit located outside London and some NHS private patient units within London.

The top level (Countrywide Plus) includes all NHS private patient units and every private hospital in the UK.

The choice of which type of hospital you use is obviously entirely yours to make. However, you might like to weigh up differing factors such as;

  • the distance to the hospital
  • what facilities they have at each
  • how well trained the staff are and
  • what kind of care, accommodation and treatment package you receive at the various centres. 

The cost of individual private health insurance features

At this point it’s worth remembering that the prices for private health insurance vary for each individual, and therefore the prices quoted in this article are to be used as a guide alongside your own personal research and quotes. 

1. What does dental private medical insurance cost?

Some of the big health care insurance companies such as Aviva, AXA and Vitality offer different options that allow you to have varying levels of dental cover in the UK. The cover levels and costs of the dental treatment have a few differences between them. Both AXA and Aviva merge dental cover with optical cover (optician fees). 

The features of these policies are designed to cover the most important work only, and not to cover routine examinations and maintenance. For a 33 year old, adding these options to the basic cover would add an extra £5 – £11 per month to the premium.

Vitality offers two levels of dental cover. Aviva and AXA offer theirs with an extra monthly charge of £4 to £6 for this client.

However, BUPA has a separate healthcare insurance cost for dental Insurance policies, which you can purchase directly from their website.

2. What does health insurance for alternative therapies cost?

For a 33 year old, the fees may be increased by between £3 and £7 per month.

Every insurer has a slightly different definition of what they consider as an alternative therapy; therefore, the costs of their cover will vary accordingly.

Aviva quotes an extra £5 per month for cover that would allow a yearly maximum of 10 visits in total to osteopaths, physios, acupuncturists or chiropractors. AXA also charges the same amount for this same cover.

3. What does UK health insurance with outpatient cover cost?

For this, quotes may be increased by between £12 and £31 per month. The majority of private health insurance policies have a basic or core level of cover that insures you for medical treatments whenever you are admitted to the hospital including in more serious and life-threatening situations. 

However, the basic plans don’t usually include any sort of cover for outpatient treatment – i.e. being treated in a hospital, by a doctor or specialist without having to stay overnight in the hospital.

Outpatient cover can be added, and just as it is for other covers, the details, policies and prices of it will vary from insurer to insurer.

AXA quotes an extra £13 per month for a Standard Outpatient option. Their core cover includes cover for outpatient surgery, CT, MRI and PET scans so this extra outpatient option would cover the diagnosis and consultations or if you have to see a medical practitioner such as a dietitian, nurse, speech therapist etc. AXA’s Standard option covers 3 specialist consultations with absolutely no limit on the level of diagnostics or practitioner charges.

Vitality’s core cover will also cover MRI, CT and PET scans. Their outpatient option covers all other outpatient costs, such as physios, specialist consultations, and diagnostic tests such as blood tests, x-rays etc. £1000 of cover per year is quoted at an extra £7 per month.

Aviva also has a similar approach – CT, MRI and PET scans are fully covered by the core cover, just as pre-admission tests are i.e. all tests carried out at the hospital before you are admitted to confirm that you are able to undergo a surgery and get anaesthesia and radiotherapy/chemotherapy. All other costs as an outpatient are subject to the level of cover you choose.

4. What are the costs for cancer cover?

Cancer, being a now common disease, is usually covered as standard to at least some level. Nevertheless, there are some limits on the level of treatments rendered, specific drugs administered and time limits for which the payment for the treatment would cover – so it is very important to fully understand the specific terms and conditions of your insurance. 

As usual, insurers take different stances with their cover – For instance, Aviva offers no flexibility at all in the cancer cover they provide for buyers under their ‘Cancer Pledge’.

However, AXA includes cancer cover and care in its core cover which provides limitless cover for radiotherapy, chemotherapy, experimental treatment and unlimited outpatient cancer treatment.

It also gives you the opportunity to go for an ‘NHS Cancer Support’ option which  costs the buyer an extra £4 per month on top of your premium which is about 10% of the basic monthly premium. 

However, this fee may be higher for buyers who are older or those from different postal codes.

Vitality goes with the approach of making provision for a maximum cover as standard but giving you the choice to downgrade your cover if you ever wish to do so. This lower level of cover has a 12-month limit on the usage of biological therapies and a limit of just three months on hormone or bisphosphonate therapy when they are prescribed on their own.

Is Private Health Insurance Worth It?

So, this brings us to the question, is private health insurance worth it?

The major benefit of using the private health sector in the UK is not just because of the quality of treatment it provides, but rather, it is a way of avoiding the regular long queues and waiting lists in hospitals and, depending on the region in which you reside, the limited availability of specialists who attend to NHS patients. 

The NHS is run with a limited amount of money, and there is therefore a very high demand on its services and a quota on what it can provide each individual person.

Private healthcare professionals are less overloaded with patients, and waiting times in the private sector are far lower than in the NHS. When you are worried about a serious health condition, having to wait weeks, or even months, to see a specialist for a diagnosis and then the same amount of time to begin treatment, can be emotionally and physically agonising. And in some circumstances, where time is of the essence in getting treatment started, it can mean the difference between catching something early enough to cure it, and missing the golden window of opportunity. 

Private healthcare offers a greater level of choice with regards to when and where you can access treatment, which doctor or specialist you get to see, and the type of treatments you can access, including some treatments that are not available on the NHS.

You will experience a higher level of comfort during your stay in a private hospital. You will have access to private hospital rooms. In public hospitals, you’ll most likely be admitted into a ward where there are four to six other people. And there are no strict visiting hours in private hospitals, meaning your loved ones can come and be with you at whatever time you and they want. 

Conclusion

Whether you feel private health insurance is worth having, or not, is of course an entirely personal decision and it has to be based on your own health needs, your finances and what you consider to be important.

If better facilities and more choice over the doctors you see really matter to you, and you have the ability to pay for it, then private health insurance makes sense.

If you do not see any type of cover that you feel improves on what the NHS has to offer, then it does not make a good option for you.

Reduced waiting times are tempting to everyone, particularly when your health is at risk however, and it may be this point that tips the balance for many people. 

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