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Best private health insurers revealed by Which?

We've assessed the options for paying for private care

Best private health insurers revealed by Which?

Today Which? publishes ratings for private medical insurers based on the experiences of hundreds of customers who’ve claimed on their cover. 

We asked customers of the major insurers, including Axa, PPP, Bupa, Saga and Vitality, to give a score for satisfaction, value for money, and how well the claim was handled. The overall satisfaction score varied widely – from just 54% up to 73%.

Which? members can see the scores in our guide to private health insurance.

Many people turn to private healthcare because of increasingly lengthy waits for NHS treatment. In March, 362,000 patients waited longer than 18 weeks for elective (non-emergency) hospital treatment – 63,000 more than in March 2016.

When we asked Which? members for their reasons for taking out health insurance or using private healthcare, the most common reason was a desire for speedier treatment.

Health insurance is hugely expensive, however. And when we surveyed 1,200 members with health insurance, four in five told us they thought their premiums had increased in the past five years. When we looked at quotes without an excess and with no outpatient cover, we found that:

  • The annual premium was around £1,000 for a 55-year-old;
  • This rose to around £1,375 at 65;
  • and more than £2,000 at 74.

Costs can be considerably higher than this if you have pre-existing conditions and/or previous claims.

How to save money on private health insurance

If you’re worried about rising costs, there are steps you can take. Start by checking whether you need all of the cover provided by your policy – you may be happy to use the NHS for some healthcare. It’s worth being cautious, though – you don’t want to remove anything you’ll end up needing.

You can also consider adding an excess if you don’t have one, but this will probably be cost effective only if you don’t have to claim regularly.

Another option is considering a different type of scheme. Some Which? members have told us they use the Benenden scheme, which works rather like a credit union and funds a limited range of treatments and operations.

You can find out more about how to cut the costs of private health insurance, and the alternatives, in our guide to private health insurance.

Want to skip insurance and self-pay?

When we surveyed 4,000 Which? members, around one in ten had chosen to self-fund an operation with some telling us they prefer to save regularly rather than pay for medical insurance.

With the help of Private Healthcare UK, we’ve looked into the price of private surgery and found costs can vary by thousands of pounds depending on which hospital you attend – we’ve shown examples of three of the most popular elective surgeries below.

The surgery may differ slightly (procedures, implants and lenses can vary – the Nuffield Health price for cataract surgery below includes eyesight correction, for example) but you should always be clear on what you’re paying for (and whether you need it) before committing.

If you’d like to find out more about how much it’ll cost to self-pay, www.privatehealthcare.co.uk publishes an annual survey of private healthcare costs. You can enter your postcode and how far you’re willing to travel, and then compare prices.

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