What are you looking forward to about your retirement? The chance to spend more time on your hobbies and interests, see your grandchildren or travel the world? Whatever your plans, you'll enjoy your retirement more if you're in good health. Research from the Institute of Economic Affairs shows that retirement can have a negative impact on retirees' physical and mental health.
We're all at increased risk of serious illnesses as we age, so it's essential that we have access to good quality medical treatment that can get us back to full health and an enjoyable retirement sooner rather than later.
Challenges currently facing the NHS
The NHS was experiencing a backlog before the COVID-19 pandemic, and waiting times have increased since then. The NHS is also facing challenges with recruiting qualified staff.
As a population, we're living longer, so more of us need care for chronic conditions and illnesses that become more prevalent as we age. All of these factors are combined to create real challenges for the NHS.
Private health insurance allows you to access private healthcare treatment whenever needed. Health insurance providers work in a variety of different ways. Some have their own hospitals and treatment centres, others work with NHS hospitals and pay to use their facilities, and you'll also find a combination of the two.
You can bypass NHS waiting lists with private health insurance
Private health insurance lets you bypass NHS waiting lists and quickly access treatment. If you need inpatient treatment, you can stay in a private room so you can rest and recover in peace.
You've worked all your life, and now it's time to enjoy your retirement. You've made your plans, and then ill health strikes, and suddenly everything's on hold. When you have health insurance, you won't have to worry because you can access treatment quickly and get back to enjoying your life.
Choose from inpatient and outpatient cover and much more
Depending on the type of health insurance coverage you choose, the benefits could include faster access to diagnostic tests and scans, day-patient and inpatient treatment, and outpatient cover (although this is typically an optional extra).
Access 24/7 virtual GP services
Most health insurers also include access to a 24/7 virtual GP service which allows you to seek medical advice online or over the phone. This is a real advantage when GP appointments are often hard to come by.
Tailor your policy to fit your requirements
You can tailor your health insurance to suit your needs. If there's a family history of particular health conditions, you can ensure that this is covered in your health insurance policy.
When you take out private medical insurance, your first step is to choose the health insurance provider that's right for you. Different insurance companies offer varying health insurance plans, although all the leading insurers offer core cover that's broadly similar. You can tailor your policy to suit your budget and how much cover you need. Then, you can compare health insurance quotes to ensure you know what you're getting for your money. When you're ready, you simply agree to take out the policy and start paying your monthly premiums.
Claim for treatment when you need it
After that, if you need treatment, you can contact your insurance company to make a claim. The exact process will depend on the underwriting type; however, your insurers will check whether your policy covers the treatment you need. Your health insurance will pay for the necessary medical treatment if your claim is approved.
Choice over who treats you and where
You can choose which consultant you want to see and where you'll have the treatment. Your treatment provider will talk you through the process, from your initial consultation to any follow-up rehabilitation you might need.
Health insurance is designed to provide private medical treatment for acute conditions that can be cured with a single course of treatment so you can get back to enjoying your life. This doesn't mean you can only get medical treatment for short-term illnesses. All the leading providers offer cancer cover, which will pay for private treatment over a more extended period. Here are some types of cover that your medical insurance can provide.
Inpatient and day-patient treatment
Most health insurance policies include inpatient and day-patient treatment as standard. If you need to stay in a hospital for surgery or other treatment, you'll be able to do so in a private room, either in one of your insurance providers' private hospitals or an NHS hospital.
You may also be admitted to a day-patient unit where you'll stay for a longer period but not overnight. This type of care is often offered to cancer patients whose treatment may last a few hours.
You can opt to include outpatient cover within your health insurance. It will consist of private medical care on an outpatient basis and can also cover the tests and scans needed to provide you with an initial diagnosis. However, this is typically only available as an optional extra, and you'll need to pay a higher premium to include it.
Other optional extras you can get with your medical insurance
There are a whole host of optional extras that you may want to add to your health insurance. These will differ depending on your insurance policy but can include some of the following.
1. Dental and optical care
When you're over 60, you'll automatically qualify for a free eye test; however, you may still have to pay for your glasses unless you or your partner receive a list of benefits. Unless you or your partner receive pension credit, you'll also have to pay for dental care, including routine checkups.
We suggest you compare health insurance costs with the costs of regular checkups and treatments along with glasses or contact lenses, as health insurance can contribute to the cost of all of these, and you may save money in the long run.
2. Mental health treatment
Many insurers offer some mental health support as standard. That could be access to a helpline or even a short course of therapy. However, if you need more in-depth care, including inpatient treatment for a psychiatric condition, you'll need to add this to your medical insurance if you want private treatment.
3. A more comprehensive choice of hospitals
Most health insurance companies have a network of hospitals and treatment centres throughout the UK, so you can choose to have treatment at a convenient location. However, their standard list can sometimes be limited, mainly if you live in London. This is simply because some areas have higher costs for specialist treatments, staffing and other facilities. When comparing health insurance, it's worth looking at each provider's hospital list to check whether the locations on offer are convenient.
4. Additional treatments
Health insurance will cover many treatments and therapies that aren't routinely available on the NHS; however, there are limits. If you'd like the option to explore alternative therapies such as homoeopathy or acupuncture alongside traditional treatment, this is typically only available as an added extra.
You can also opt to extend the number of treatment sessions available if you need to see a physiotherapist, acupuncturist, chiropractor or osteopath.
5. Travel insurance
Senior citizens can often find it more difficult to get travel insurance. This is particularly true if your medical history includes any high-risk conditions. Some health insurance allows you to add travel insurance to your policy which may allow you access travel insurance and save money.
Other related additional benefits can include access to treatment when you're abroad. This could make all the difference if you plan to spend some of your retirement travelling the world.
6. Cash Benefit
Most insurers include an NHS cash benefit as part of their cover. This means you can opt to receive NHS treatment rather than your private medical insurance. Alternatively, you may need to be treated for a condition that isn't covered by your medical insurance.
An NHS cash benefit lets you claim a fixed cash sum which you can use as you like. This is often included as a core benefit, but you can also opt to extend it to cover a broader range of treatments and expenses. These could include health screening, NHS car parking charges or attendance at A&E for a medical emergency, even if you aren't admitted to the hospital afterwards.
Health insurance only covers acute conditions that a course of treatment can resolve. This means you can't get health insurance for chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes or angina. They'll need to be monitored and treated by your GP or an NHS consultant.
Pre-existing conditions are excluded
Health insurance plans also exclude any pre-existing conditions. This is defined as any conditions you needed treatment or advice for in the five years before you took out your health insurance policy. The approach your insurers will take to this depends on the type of underwriting you choose.
Full medical underwriting could give you more clarity as to what is and isn't covered
If you choose full medical underwriting, you'll be asked for details of your medical history when you take out the policy and your insurers will confirm what is and isn't covered from the outset. By contrast, with moratorium underwriting (which tends to be the cheaper option), you won't be asked about your medical history until you make a claim. Both types will apply a moratorium period of two years to any pre-existing conditions. If you haven't claimed during that time, your insurers may consider adding it to your policy.
Standard health insurance exclusions
All insurance companies also have a standard list of exclusions. Typically, these include:
- Treatments for addiction
- Cosmetic surgery or other cosmetic procedures
- Pregnancy and maternity cover (this is unlikely to be an important consideration once you're over 65, but if you choose to add other adult family members to your policy, it may affect them.)
Here's our round-up of the best health insurers on the market and what they offer for over 65s.
Aviva's Healthier Solutions policy provides comprehensive health insurance, whatever your age. You can access treatment at various hospitals from either their 'Expert Select' or 'Hospital Options' lists. The policy includes excellent and extensive cancer cover as part of its core package. There's 24/7 access to a digital GP and a 24-hour stress counselling website. They offer an option to protect your no-claims discount and guarantee they won't increase your premiums at your first renewal, as long as you haven't made a claim. You can also get a discount if you take out a policy as a couple.
Aviva only provides cover for the UK, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, so you can't get travel or international health insurance, which might be an issue if you're planning to take that round-the-world cruise.
2. Axa Health
AXA Health offers comprehensive coverage, and there's no upper age limit on health cover. They offer day-patient and inpatient care as part of their core packages, and their outpatient cover is excellent value for money. Their hospital list includes 250 private facilities in the UK, so there's likely a suitable treatment provider near you.
The outpatient coverage includes unlimited physiotherapy and chiropractic treatment. This could be ideal if you lead an active lifestyle or if a family history of joint replacements might affect you in the future.
Bupa is a household name, thanks partly to their healthcare services which include insurance and a network of private hospitals across the UK. Their insurance offers comprehensive coverage with a wide range of treatments and therapies, and new policyholders have no upper age limit.
They're one of the only providers that will allow you to access cancer treatment without seeing your GP first, and they include mental health support as standard.
If you choose Bupa as your insurer, you'll also be able to benefit from discounts and rewards that are only available to their policyholders. Even if you don't take out a policy, it's worth visiting their website for articles and advice on healthy living.
Freedom offers flexible health cover that you can tailor to your needs and budget. They'll only accept new customers up to 70, but once you have a policy, you'll be offered renewal terms even when you're over 70 making it a good option as senior health insurance.
Their core cover gives you excellent insurance, and you can add optional extras such as outpatient care, mental health treatment and alternative therapies to their core services.
5. National Friendly
National Friendly don't have upper age limits for new customers and works hard to make your premiums affordable. While it's unlikely that you'll find cheap health insurance once you're over 65, National Friendly's price promise should certainly help when looking for senior health insurance. Your premium may increase due to your age or inflation in medical costs, but if you claim in the first five years, it won't affect your premium. After five years, you can either opt to pay a higher premium or take an exclusion on your policy.
It's worth bearing in mind that age-related conditions are excluded from their policies. The precise meaning of this isn't clear, so it's worth asking for clarification if any conditions are of particular concern to you.
6. The Exeter
The Exeter is a friendly society with core coverage, including outpatient surgery, mental health treatment and cancer treatment. Their customer service ratings are consistently excellent, and they've been praised for dealing with claims and making payments quickly. There's also a good range of optional extras on offer.
Their community-rated scheme means that your claims won't increase your premiums. Instead, they set their prices by looking at claims made by all members. You can access this scheme until the age of 80, making it a budget-friendly option.
Vitality is committed to supporting its customers to live long and healthy life. They go the extra mile to encourage policyholders to maintain a healthy lifestyle with various incentives and discounts, including fitness tracker watches and gym memberships.
If you haven't needed hospital treatment in the three years before getting health insurance, you'll receive a 10% discount and your renewal premiums are linked to your health and activity levels. This could be a downside if you prefer a gentler pace of living or would prefer not to have technology tracking your movements.
WPA's flagship policy, Flexible Health, isn't available to those over 65, but that doesn't mean you should rule them out, as they're one of the best providers on the market. They take a community-rated approach to premiums so individual claims won't increase your premium. They also offer an almost unrestricted choice regarding hospitals and consultants.
There's no age limit on their multi-family healthcare plan, which allows you to take out a policy that covers different generations of the same family, even if you live at separate addresses. You'll receive a multi-family discount which could be a great way of keeping your costs down.
Saga specialises in products and services for the over 50s, so it's no surprise they've included insurance that helps you take care of your health needs in retirement. They offer a range of health plans from the basic support package to Saga HealthPlan Super, including inpatient and outpatient cover as standard and mental health cover. There's also an NHS cash benefit available on all of their plans.
Axa underwrites them, so they share many of the same benefits, including a hospital list that takes in most of the major private treatment facilities in the UK.
If you've never thought about private healthcare, the range of available insurance options can be daunting. You might spend time researching or contacting insurers only to find that they don't cover medical tests or that some medical conditions are excluded. The monthly premium you're quoted may not be affordable.
Get free advice from an FCA authorised expert before you get health insurance
When you speak to a broker regulated by the financial conduct authority, you can get expert advice on the right insurance products. they know the details of each health plan so that they can advise you on the right cover for your circumstances and budget.
At myTribe, we provide you with information that enables you to do your research. We'll also give you a comparison quote and put you in touch with a high-quality, regulated broker who can show you specialist advice.