Residents of certain countries are entitled to free healthcare provided by the government, however, some people often choose to buy private medical insurance - also referred to as health insurance - so that they can have a choice in the level of healthcare that they receive.
Like all insurance, the cover you can get varies, but basic private medical insurance will often pick up the costs of most in-patient treatments (such as tests and surgery) and day-care surgery. Some policies extend to out-patient treatments (such as being examined or treated by specialists and consultants).
Private medical insurance can be purchased on a full medical underwriting basis, which means you will be asked a number of questions about your health and, based on the information that you provide, the insurer will decide the conditions of your cover.
You can also apply for cover on a moratorium basis, which means you will not be asked any questions about your health, but if you have suffered from any health conditions in the last five years, these will automatically be excluded from the cover initially.
What may not be covered
- You will not be able to take out cover now for treatment that you know you are going to need.
- If you have had health problems in the past (pre-existing conditions), your insurer may exclude those conditions from your cover. If you are asked to disclose these when applying for the insurance you must do so, or you could invalidate your policy, which means the insurance company will not pay out if you make a claim.
- Private medical insurance policies will not cover the treatment of chronic medical conditions. There are various definitions of chronic conditions depending on each policy, but broadly it is a long-term medical condition that is likely to continue to need regular treatment.
- Some policies exclude certain types of treatment such as out-patient treatments, routine treatments (such as health checks), dental care or experimental treatments.
- Most policies also exclude routine pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, fertility treatment, psychiatric conditions and elective treatments that you may choose to have, such as cosmetic surgery.
Do shop around - the private medical insurance market is a competitive one and both cover and the costs vary from company to company.
Many policies have a standard excess charge which means that you agree to pay the first part of any claim, for example the first £100. If you agree to pay a higher excess sum you may be able to obtain a cheaper policy. You could also choose cover that only kicks in if state-provided healthcare services are not available within a certain timeframe.
Make sure that you are clear about what you need. You may not want the highest level of cover.
Always compare what is covered by a policy, not just the price. Some policies may be cheaper than others, but they may not offer the same level of protection.