Cut the costs of going private

Health insurance is getting even more expensive. Ruth Jackson explains how you can cut the cost of going private.

Health insurance has never been cheap, but it's becoming even more expensive. The average annual health-insurance premium has risen by £500 to £1,870 over the past six years, according to research last year by the Daily Mail. Meanwhile, the number of people with private medical insurance outside of workplace schemes fell to 970,000 in 2015, down from more than one million six years earlier. However, there are several ways you can cut the costs of private health care.

First, remember that you can access private medical care without insurance you just pay for treatment yourself. To give you an idea of how much you need, a hip replacement costs around £10,000, while an MRI scan costs anywhere from around £200 to £800. Costs vary around the country, so shop around to see if travelling could cut the bill.

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If you decide to buy insurance, check comparison websites to get an idea of where the best deals are but don't stop there. See if you can cut your premiums by increasing your excess, or opting to part-pay for any treatment you need. Keep an eye out for policies that offer no-claims discounts, or for those that will give discounts if you can demonstrate a healthy lifestyle (some policies offer up to 15% off, although they still may not be the cheapest overall).

Many insurers also offer a "six-week option", which means if the waiting time is less than six weeks you are treated on the NHS. Any longer and they will pay for you to go private. Some insurers offer policies that will cover you only for diagnosis. You get quick access to tests and consultants in order to find out what is wrong, then you are referred back to the NHS for treatment. Finally, as with any insurance, paying up front rather than in monthly instalments can mean a substantial saving of 5%-10%.

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If you take out a policy, your premiums will rise as you get older. It can be worth shopping around for a better deal, but most policies won't cover pre-existing conditions, so if you already have health issues, it may be best to stick with your current provider. Given the complexity of the choices involved, it could be worth speaking to a specialist broker if you're not sure what cover you need.

How to cover your teeth

One thing private health insurance doesn't tend to cover is dental work. If you want an insurer to cover the cost of looking after your teeth, you'll have to get a specialist policy. These can be pricey, so are only really worth considering if you anticipate a lot of work may be needed in the future (but keep in mind that most policies don't cover pre-existing conditions).

If your teeth are in good condition, and you expect them to remain that way, you may want to consider sticking with an NHS dentist and setting aside money in a savings account to cover future dental work. That way if you don't need any major work you've kept the money, rather than handing it over to an insurer. In addition, it's worth checking that you aren't already covered through your work before you take out a policy. Some employers offer healthcare cash plans that reimburse you for treatment costs.

When it comes to choosing a policy, dental plans don't tend to be covered comprehensively by standard comparison websites. However, MoneySavingExpert.com and Which.co.uk feature an analysis of some policies. To keep your premiums down, you can opt to take out dental insurance purely to cover NHS treatment. An insurance policy for NHS work is far cheaper than a policy covering private dental care.

For example, MoneySavingExpert states that you can get an insurance policy covering NHS treatments for as little as £7 a month, compared with £15 a month for private cover. As with private medical insurance, consider opting for a higher excess to keep your premiums down, or get a policy that requires you to pay for part of your treatment. Finally, you should be able to get a lower price by paying annually.

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