/ 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.