What is Private Health Insurance?

Private Health Insurance, or PMI, is a system by which you can cover yourself so that an insurer will pay for your medical treatments and procedures, and provide a higher standard of care than you might receive on the NHS. To do this you purchase an insurance policy, whose terms and conditions determine where and with whom you receive your treatment as well as which treatments you will have to pay for yourself.  Very loosely speaking the NHS is a national insurance system, because everybody pays in via their taxes and then the cover is paid for by the government when and if you use it, but that allows you much less control over the way that you are treated.

Why Choose Private Health Insurance?

The basic premise of private health insurance is that you pay a premium in case you ever require a medical procedure. When (or if) you require treatment it is arranged by the company to whom you paid your premium. Of course, you may never need to use your health insurance, and if you do you can’t guarantee that what you receive will have cost the company more than you have paid them (particularly over a substantial period of time) so you may be wondering, why take it out?

The reasons people give for taking out private health insurance reach far and wide. Here is an introduction to just a few of those reasons, covered in more detail later on. Private health insurance provides you with a package of benefits, which will cover treatment and services that you may need if you become ill. One factor which may encourage people to take out private health insurance is that there are several types of packages on offer, so that you can tailor your package to your personal needs. These package plans will differ in the level of benefits they offer, for example the time you can expect to wait and the level of service you can expect to receive. The prices can vary depending on the package of course, but also depending on factors such as your age and your medical history. If you are at higher risk of using the insurance, the insurance will cost more.  

For some, is the wide choice of cover and range of policy options that convince them private health insurance is worth the money, and they are not paying for something that doesn’t apply to them. If you are in excellent health for example, or have no history of illness in the family, you could pay less and get cover that has a restricted number of illnesses or events that will apply If you have the money and want complete peace of mind, you could get a very comprehensive policy whose guidelines can be very broad. It is best to do your research and pick a policy suited to you and your lifestyle. Some policies are geared towards particular age groups or people with particular lifestyles, for example there are specific plans for the elderly and over 50’s.

More and more insurance companies are providing more flexible options for the customer. Because policies used to be narrower, with less options, it used to be the case that you would have to take out several different policies with several providers to cover you in case of different illnesses or treatments. Nowadays it is much easier to arrange an ‘umbrella’ type cover where you can have a variety of insurances as part of a bigger health plan. This makes life much more simple and is less time consuming and frustrating when it comes to setting up the policies.

Aside from the benefits and increasingly ease of set up of private health insurance, probably the biggest reason you would be persuaded to take it out is come kind of dissatisfaction with the NHS. If you have had a bad experience in the past you may start thinking about going private. This can include having had to wait a very long time for a procedure or being unhappy with the service you received. Many people will also be discouraged from relying on the NHS by newspaper articles or ‘reveal-all’ programmes such as Panorama which discuss the inadequacy of the health system. Some people may be driven to take out private health insurance out of a desire to avoid the National Health Service.

People choose to have private health insurance for a variety of reasons. Unlike other countries, where private healthcare is the only option, in the UK the National Health Service means that private medical treatment is a luxury rather than a necessity and so for some it may seem out of reach. It is worth investigating even if you are unsure you can meet the costs if you have strong reasons for wanting to go private, as many companies often offer a variety of payment plans.


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