Ideas for reducing health insurance costs in the UK
February 7, 2016 4:22 PM   Subscribe

My elderly parents health insurance costs have now become unaffordable. Are there any ways of reducing this cost without significantly reducing the coverage currently offered to them?

They have had private health insurance for decades. It has been great for them in health terms, I'm sure it has saved their lives a number of times in ways that might not have been catered for by the NHS. As such they are understandably reluctant to give it up.
However the costs have risen to a point where it now accounts for around 50% of their income, about £15,000 a year (it has increased by £2,000 in the last year alone).

I'm trying to find out:
Does insurance increase every year based on your claims?
Does that seem like a crazy amount of insurance to pay annually for two people?
Are other insurers unlikely to take them on based on their health situation and previous claims?
posted by fernbritton to Work & Money (13 answers total)
Insurance costs rise with risk. Risks increase with age, and to some extent the number of claims they've made already indicates the likely trend in future claims. You can be sure that this is all being measured as carefully as possible by the insurer.

You might get a better deal by shopping around, but really, in the UK private healthcare is considered a luxury for the moderately-to-very wealthy. It's unusual to hear of a couple living on £30,000 a year paying for private health insurance. It doesn't surprise me at all that the cost to an elderly couple would be £15,000. I think the questions you need to ask are (a) is the reassurance of having their health well looked after worth the expense to them - it may well be, and (b) what makes you so sure the NHS is a worse option? Quality of NHS care can be exceptional if you happen to live in the right part of the UK and have a GP you trust.
posted by pipeski at 4:37 PM on February 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

WHAT? No, that is an absolutely bonkers amount of money in the UK. Yes, insurance goes up based on claims and age. How old are they? Your parents absolutely must change policies.

Additionally, it would be helpful to know the ways in which "it has saved their lives a number of times in ways that might not have been catered for by the NHS." They might want to look at six-week plans, where any condition that cannot be treated on the NHS will be covered by insurance.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:41 PM on February 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

That's a staggeringly insane amount to pay for insurance. I would think so if you had no other choice and had to pay it because a catastrophe would be multiples of that amount, but you have a free-at-the-point-of-delivery health service available!

Plenty of people *live* on GBP15,000 per year.

I too am curious as how having insurance has saved their lives a number of times. My family are all in the UK and none of them have dropped dead for lack of care. Sure, you wait for elective services but if you are really ill or injured, you go to the head of the line.

If they weren't paying that much in insurance they could save that much per year and have plenty to pay for the odd visit to a consultant should the occasion arise and they didn't feel like their GP was handling things well.

How old are they? If they are really elderly, they are going to die at some point soon anyway, whether they spend that kind of money or not. Significant medical interventions in the elderly really have diminishing returns whereas having a large nest egg of saved premiums will be enormously helpful to the surviving spouse or to ease their life during the other spouse's decline and treatment under NHS services (home help, taxis everywhere etc).
posted by kitten magic at 9:54 PM on February 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes, it is really, really over the top. Alternatives? I belong to a mutual society, Benenden, rather than have health insurance (this is actually a work benefit). Basically rather they step in when waiting lists are too long or something is difficult to get on the NHS. I think it's around £9/per month. So far I've used it once when waiting for a specialist and they were very prompt.
posted by teststrip at 11:28 PM on February 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is a crazy amount. And I have real problems with this line
It has been great for them in health terms, I'm sure it has saved their lives a number of times in ways that might not have been catered for by the NHS.

Given this, blind, I'd assume your family were being scammed, I really would. i can't imagine what would be so necessary that you'd get from a private health care company that would be actually life-saving multiple times. Health insurance in the UK should be/is about convenience and comfort, mostly; I know the NHS is a long way from perfect, and can imagine times where things like, say, really epansive & expensive check ups or routine well-man/woman checks might catch something early - but to value a private healthcare system enough to pay half your income for it? No, something has gone wrong here.
posted by AFII at 12:19 AM on February 8, 2016

Health insurance in the UK is basically about getting treatment quicker and more conveniently, generally for non-urgent conditions. I'd be very surprised if it were actually true that private health care had saved their lives. Most doctors working in the private sector also work for the NHS (AFAIK) and all of them were trained in the NHS.

I agree that £15,000 is am insane amount of money and they would be better off spending it on other things.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:33 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just to give you a little perspective, that's high for American health insurance.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:48 AM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

For those fees your parents could afford to pay out of pocket for a few of the nice to have things they are paying for with private health insurance at the moment.
posted by koahiatamadl at 6:02 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Perhaps some of that very large premium might be due to cover that includes in-patient psychiatric care, and treatment at the most expensive and fanciest London hospitals (e.g. The London Clinic, Princess Grace, etc). You can be treated just as well in all likelihood by smaller hospitals out of town, so take those off if they're on the list. Some also cover 'alternative' treatments, so you can take those off too.

Then there is the usual insurance cover excess - if they can cover the first £500-1,000 of any claim then the premium should come down.

But as others have said it does seem very, very high - maybe check out vitality, which gives substantial annual discounts (35 percent or so) for getting your cholesterol and other numbers checked, and for not claiming.

UK private health insurance is mainly about the wait time and the comfort, but can also be about securing the services of a doctor who has the time and energy and resources to treat you in the most effective and cross-disciplinary way possible. Yes they are often the same doctors who work in the NHS for the other half of their week, but they may be expected to see 30 patients in a single morning for the NHS, while private patients probably get 30 minutes plus the doctor's mobile number. There are also newish drugs (especially for cancer) that the NHS periodically refuses to pay for.
posted by colie at 7:41 AM on February 8, 2016

Honestly, they could save the money and pay out of pocket for things NHS won't cover, unless there is a very specific benefit you expect to use.
I self pay for outpatient therapy in the US for various reasons, and with one session a week doesn't come near what you are paying for insurance.

*us opinion please account I know very little about insurance culture in UK.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:49 AM on February 8, 2016

The point of insurance in old age is to use more than you pay. After all they have been paying in it for years for security. Do you think they have health care costs over GBP15,000 a year?
What are those costs? Are they covered by NHS?
Do they want to go to a specific care facility? Do they think they are at higher risk for some serious diseases?
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2016

A UK person here adding to the chorus of 'it's a ridiculous amount of money' given the care they can get for free on the NHS.
posted by coffee_monster at 12:08 AM on February 9, 2016

Are other insurers unlikely to take them on based on their health situation and previous claims?

I don't think this has been mentioned, but some may offer a moratorium for certain conditions, a period of usually 2 years during which you're covered but it's agreed that they won't pay for a recurrence of an existing condition (so during which time they'd have to use the NHS). But if they've had previous extensive claims for difficult long-term conditions, then yes other insurers may well not take on their business.
posted by colie at 1:06 AM on February 9, 2016

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