/ Health, Money

Is it worth paying for private health insurance?

Transport for London was recently criticised for spending over £10m on private health insurance for its staff over the past three years. Given that we all have access to the NHS, is it really worth buying health insurance?

Transport for London is one of many companies in the UK that offers private medical insurance as a perk to its employees.

However, many feel that private health insurance is an unnecessary and even extravagant expense when we all have access to free healthcare on the NHS. On the other hand, supporters of private health insurance argue that reduced waiting times and greater choice of consultants, hospitals, appointments etc. make the costs justifiable.

Is there any alternative?

Healthcare cash plan (HCP) providers argue that they offer a middle ground between free healthcare and private medical insurance. HCPs are a less well-known way of covering medical costs, increasingly offered by employers who want to provide their staff with a more affordable perk.

So how do they work? HCPs allow you to reclaim a percentage of costs for everyday treatments, such as physiotherapy and optical care, up to a fixed maximum amount each year. The most basic policies can start from around £6 a month.

HCPs can be seen to complement the NHS by helping you recoup costs in areas not generally covered by the free health service like dental and chiropractic treatment. Unlike private medical insurance, there’s no need to have a medical beforehand and, in most cases, premiums will not increase as you get older. However, if you have any pre-existing conditions, it’s likely that restrictions will be applied.

Weighing up the options

I’m fortunate enough to be in good general health, but I regularly spend quite a bit on glasses and contact lenses. For this reason, a health care cash plan appeals to me more than private medical insurance.

Having said that, the annual optical benefit limits offered by the more basic policies (around £50) fall far short of what I typically spend in a year. It’s also unlikely I would claim for any other benefits, so an HCP wouldn’t make financial sense for me. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be better off putting some money aside each month specifically for covering optical costs.

Given the nation-wide spending squeeze, how far up on your list of priorities does health insurance feature? Does the affordability of a cash plan appeal to you, or would you rather ‘self-insure’ by regularly setting money aside?


Now if you could find a private health insurance for an 82 year old on only a state pension of £140 including all expenses at below the poverty line – I’d be interested. But no-one is interested. Instead they will steal my house when I need long tern care – even though I paid my taxes and National INSURANCE until I retired. National “Insurance” what a complete joke – directly you need it it is no longer “free at point of use” if you are old. Yet I supported without complaint all those retired people before me.

When the NHS was formed (before my time) we did not have anything like the number of investigations and treatments, including drugs, that we have now. Despite the fact that many are now overweight and there is a lot of stress in our lives, the average life expectancy has substantially increased. Many cancers are now treatable and heart surgery has become routine. If we were all happy with 1950s medical care and had the life expectancy we had back then, there would not be a problem.

You may see it as unfair to use your assets to pay for your long term care, but is it fair for young people who cannot afford to buy their own house to pay for your care?

Interesting – I had to pay for the elderly long term care when I paid NI and had a 15% mortgage.rate – but somehow when I need it – it is no longer available – young people have the lowest mortgage interest rates ever – and they still complain – is that fair?

Jerry says:
19 January 2016

You realise that young people do still pay NI right. Also the percentage mortgage rate is a moot point if the homes to too expensive to get a mortgage at all.
Most importantly it is not he young people who organise the country’s budget, unfortunately it is mismanaged and people don’t get a return in their investment.

Bill says:
25 July 2012

Surely if you had the option (and money) you’d have both? Private medical insurance can fill some gaps in effective NHS cover.

Based on my own experience I think its better to spend money on a comprehensive annual health check-up than paying for private health care.

I had one of these in fact ended with 4 plans as I needed second opinion as GPs witholding access to referral ignoring classic heart symptons & evidence ,Yet despite going to Financial Ombudsman who took sides even though had Legal Expert Witness who then gave up as couldn’t pursue fairly . She is now going to Turkey. When I look at record now they covered their backs to look as if I had a mental problem.Now deregistering . Recently in the local papers I saw somoneone on this register, did not get taken into hospital by Ambulance & died as a result Am realising the Online medical Record shortened by someone on aremit has a lot of omissions & questionable opinion. Ineffective medications not registered as well as emergency /acute ommissions.
Policies Thatcher brought in have a lot to answer for as the NHS ignores chronic conditions it can’tcure like Alzheimers. When become acute now getting bolshy regarding access sending security & Nurses on remits when ask to speak to the medical person in charge. Why they aren’t testing or there at weekends – Royal Free – is also a health & safety risk.

clive says:
18 October 2012

Just discovered that apparently you should not start treatment near your BUPA policies renewal date if those treatments are likely to continue after the renewal.
As apprently you will be contributing the policy excess for the expiring period and also contributing the policy excess for the renewed policy!

The same applies with AXA PPP. After the treatment is finished, a follow-up check can be extremely expensive because the excess is payable for the next year.

Shabs says:
16 March 2015

Agree wit that but also depends on the policy you have taken out. need to look at what you have and be reminded each year

As I said on Twitter @CSLJohnKirby @WhichConvo When you have had BUPA @BupaUK & HSA now SimplyHealth @SimplyhealthUK for the family,it is hard to give up the comfort it brings. We has a family have been extremely lucky that we have never had a major claim, but by taking advantage of Complete Health Assessment and for my wife the addition of Female Health Assessment we can ensure we stay well. HSA (Simply Health) give cash back towards Dental\Optical costs, and £20 a night if you have to stay in Hospital overnight. One fee covers both my wife & I plus our four children. From neither provider have I every received a bad experience nor have my family or friends.

Uzume says:
5 January 2013

I think the tragedy is that the current political climate is regressing a neo-liberal ‘look out for yourself , I’m alright Jack…’ attitude, even going beyond Thatcher’s Britain!

Debating whether to ‘choose’ private insurance is currently a luxury we can debate happily, knowing it is all down to personal preference ad income.
However, the unique health culture Britain has enjoyed since Beveridge which saw health as a duty for the state to provide to keep families and the workforce disease free is becoming a thing of the past. We, the people have allowed it to happen and the reality of Cameron’s slow slide to privatisation is well underweigh.

There will soon be no choice but to take out private healthcare and, as in the US health system, the costs will rise because there will be no free alternative. £80 per month will seem like a bargain when the fees rise to £300+ per month. Maybe that’s a little pessimistic, but in America, any decent insurance costs between $500-700 per month for PPO (the most comprehensive) policies. Then there’s ‘out of pocket expenses’ in addition to the fees. My out of pocket was $1500 per year per person with a $700 per month (husband and wife joint) policy. 60% of Americans with health insurance also have medical debt!

I know this is not America, but the rhetoric this government uses when discussing healthcare sounds exactly like the people who argue against so called ‘Obamacare’. It seems so ironic that Obama is desperate to implement a national health type system due to the problems of private healthcare, just as we destroy ours!
Also, the private care I received in the US was very sketchy and did not equal ‘quality’ in any way! I once waited until 12.30pm to be seen for an 8.30am appointment and when I commented, I was basically told I was lucky to be seeing the Doctor! Even appointments at the ‘good’ hospital in the city meant many hours of waiting to be seen irrespective of appointment times. My NHS hospital and Dr apologise for running 20 minutes late and are very polite.

Does it stink? yes! Indeed it does. The destruction of the NHS will have repercussions for generations so talking about ‘fair’ is very short sighted. This generation has allowed Cameron to remove real protection for the next generation. They are the ones who should be moaning at what has been allowed to happen under this government. From ideologically based cuts and the removal of so many support services, this is now a country which is run by people intent of creating an ‘underclass’ out of the unemployed and the vulnerable! The minor quibbles about what is ‘fair’ will pale into insignificance over the coming years. Unless something major happens in May 2015, even a change of government will not help unless they keep their word, and that’s always a problem!

julie stephanie says:
10 January 2013

It may be worth but i think the premium which we pay to get ourselves insured is exactly the same which we gonna pay to the hospitals for our health problems, so getting insured with the private companies is nothing both saving amount in the piggy bank for ourselves… what we save is all what we get !

There is something I really fail to understand about private medical insurance, and dental treatment plans especially. Since they are essentially insurance policies provided by private compaies, how can they be financially advantageous for the individual insured, unless of course the premium is paid by a generous employer? Isn’t it the case that the insurance company will always make more money from premiums than the amounts it pays out? Sales people maintain that your extra costs, should you be unlucky enough to need treatment, are covered by those healthy ad wealthy individuals who pay vast premiums but never need to claim… Why can’t I believe this?

Chris Gryce says:
2 September 2013

This is a short post on the high cost of Private Medical Insurance. I am with Simply Health part of the HSA group. At present, I am paying £124.00. a month. In November my monthly premium is going up by more than a 100% to £242.38. a month. As I am 66 years old my policy is age loaded and the premium I currently pay is based also on the amount of claims I make.

Is Which considering applying pressure on the Government to regulate the private insurance market place. My insurers have told me that Medical inflation is currently running at 16% per year. This really is excessive.

Chris Gryce

John Chew says:
15 December 2013

Hi Chris,
I thought you might like to know an alternative.
In August this year I took out a Private Health Insurance Policy with Saga.
I am retired and 68 years of age and the cost is £96.00 p month. It is an annual policy.
This includes a small loading as I am on statins for blood pressure.(£5-£6).
Any existing illnesses are not covered for the first two years, but are after that.
The set up comes into force if your unable to receive treatment from the NHS within 4 weeks.
There is a excess of £100 per annum if used, AND I received the first three months free!!!
I considered this to be a good alternative if I was ever in need of urgent treatment
My reason for for being on this page is I am trying to find a comparison to see how good, or not, this policy is.
Alas there doesn’t seem to be anything to compare with.
Regards John

Shabs says:
16 March 2015

you need to look to see if you can get cover anywhere else and if you keep fit and healthy there is one provider that reduces premiums. You need a long chat about what you can get

May says:
21 May 2014

Does anyone use Beneden Health? Could they be a better alternative than medical insurance policies?

Yes I pay into Benenden Health and have just asked for help for the first time to receive private treatment for a current problem. Their customer service was first class and they are covering the cost of a biopsy, (including theatre costs and pathology). The wait on NHS following initial consultation (which I paid for myself but which Benenden would have covered if I’d asked beforehand) would be 4-6 months locally

may says:
22 May 2014

Thank you, that is good information re Beneden

Michael says:
28 June 2014

I live half the year in the Uk and half the year in Australia. Does anyone please have experience of health insurance for two countries?

Shabs says:
16 March 2015

How about getting a health care provider that also gives something back if you keep yourself fit and healthy.

I am a broker and depending on a clients budget and needs there are some great policies out there.

Want more than PMI with great service why not ask?

Matt says:
8 June 2017

BEWARE – AXA PPP Healthcare, I have just had my claim rejected on the grounds I do NOT have healthcare cover (untrue). It turns out that AXA PPP Healthcare operate two separate entities, defined by location Bristol and Tunbridge Wells, but with exactly the same trading name. What is more they don’t talk to each other! Thus their error, I was told I would have to sort out myself, at some wasted time and phone calls – I thought this type of customer service had disappeared in the 1970’s! Certainly AXA PPP Healthcare slogan “Redefining healthcare” is appropriate BUT for the wrong reasons……….

Tina says:
8 December 2017

I have had awful problems with Axa PPP. Firstly I found that they have a little club of approved consultants and if yours is not among them they pay less per consultation that for the chosen ones! Also the procedure recommended by my consultant is not covered by them despite being the safest, cheapest option, and being covered by other insurers. They say it is unproven, it is not simply not fully NICE approved. Anyone else had problems with AxaPPP?

moira.campbell1 says:
29 June 2017

Debating whether to continue with payment of private health insurance with Aviva as I had cause to attend private clinic as NHS had ‘lost’ my referral and would have to join queue which would take another 12 weeks.
Was told I had only £500 limit, had to go between my Doctor (for x-Ray’s and blood tests) and Consultant. I pay £128 a month. So now feeling it’s a waste as I could open a bank account myself solely for health.

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