There are often misconceptions about health insurance, often known as private medical insurance, which can lead to confusion about who it is suitable for and what it does.

If you are considering getting health insurance or are just curious about how it works, here we debunk six common private health insurance myths.

1. Having private health insurance means I can’t use the NHS

You might assume that by getting out a health insurance policy, you are effectively giving up your right to use public healthcare services, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

There’s no binary choice between having health insurance and using the NHS. As long as you ordinarily reside in the UK, you are free to go through the public healthcare system even while you have active health insurance. You will still be registered to your GP, and if you’re unwell or have a health concern you can go to them as your first course of action, and then decide from there if you would like to proceed privately or via the NHS.

It won’t affect your private policy if you decide to use the NHS either. In fact, some health insurance policies offer what’s known as a “six week wait” option. This means that you agree to use public healthcare services first for any new medical issues, and only turn to private treatment if the NHS waiting list is six weeks or longer. Going for this option tends to make premiums cheaper.

2. Private health insurance only covers the cost of medical treatment

The level of cover provided by your health insurance will depend on the kind of policy you take out, but many policies cover more than just standard treatment itself. For instance, health insurance can also cover:

  • Screenings, tests and scans
  • Physiotherapy
  • Mental health and wellbeing services
  • Cancer care
  • Dentistry
  • Optical care
  • Certain alternative medicines (such as osteopathy and chiropody)

Some of these may be included in the default policy, while others may be available as optional add-ons. Compare options carefully to find a policy that suits your needs, and read it carefully so you know exactly what you are and aren’t covered for.

3. Setting up private health insurance is too complicated

Nobody likes the thought of having to do a load of admin, or possibly jumping through endless hoops to set up an insurance policy. You might also be put off if you’re worried about particularly personal questions about your medical history.

However, there are types of health insurance that are very quick and easy to set up, with few medical questions involved.

Many providers offer the choice between so-called ‘moratorium’ underwriting or full medical underwriting. If you opt for the former, you can have your policy set up on the same day, sometimes within the hour. The amount of medical information you’ll be expected to give is limited to a few “yes or no” questions, and the overall process is very straightforward. Opting for a moratorium policy does mean that checks may have to be carried out in the event that you make a claim, however.

Full medical underwriting on the other hand involves making a longer application, providing medical information and potentially giving the provider permission to consult your GP. However, this often significantly simplifies the claims process itself, and gives you more detail as to what exactly is covered by your policy, as your provider will already have everything they need from you.

4. Private health insurance is too expensive

Though private health insurance is sometimes perceived as a lifestyle choice exclusively for the wealthy, it is often more accessible than you may think. Of course, the exact cost of cover can vary hugely, depending on provider, policy, and your personal situation, but a policy may cost less than some other forms of insurance.

If you believe you may benefit from private medical insurance, make sure you compare as many different policies as you can before writing it off as an unnecessary luxury. After all, you can’t put a price on your health, and you may find that premiums are more affordable than you expected.

Read more about the cost of health insurance and ways to reduce the premiums you pay in our article How much does health insurance cost?

5. I don’t need private health insurance because I am healthy

If you are currently in good health, you may not think you’d benefit from private health insurance. However, you might actually be in the best position to take out a policy.

That’s because health insurance simply tends to cost less the younger and healthier you are. However, the main reason is that the majority of health insurance policies only cover illnesses and conditions that emerge after you get the policy out. So, if you develop a medical problem or suffer an accident, you will already have taken precautions to cover the cost. We can’t predict when problems with our health will arise, but knowing you have a policy in place and being aware of what precisely it covers can hugely reduce the stress that comes with sudden medical issues.

Our article Do I need private health insurance? goes into more detail on health insurance and some of the reasons why you might consider taking out a policy.

6. I can’t get private health insurance because of my medical condition

Some people assume that they can’t get private health insurance because of a health issue they already have.

This is generally not true. You will likely have to inform the provider about any chronic health issues in your application and it can result in higher premiums. However, having a health problem or chronic issue at the time of application does not mean that your claim won’t be accepted.

What you must take into account is that any pre-existing or chronic health problems you have when you take the policy out will not usually be covered by your insurance. However, some policies will start covering the cost of treatment for a chronic health problem, provided you’ve gone a long time without experiencing any symptoms, or might cover treatment for an acute episode from a longer-term issue. You should carefully check the small print of any policy that you are considering buying and review what the provider’s approach to long-term conditions is.

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