Insurance: Just what the doctor ordered
It is time to give the healthcare market a thorough examination.
If fear of the cost of health insurance has dissuaded you from taking the plunge, now might just be the time to dip a toe in the water.
A competitive industry and a more flexible attitude among the main providers now means that even a person with an existing condition should be able to pay a reasonable premium for cover. And it is also considerably easier to transfer to a better deal with another provider.
At independent health insurance adviser Medischeme, Richard Collins is working on a scheme enabling members of a number of key north London and Essex area synagogues to obtain discounted cover.
He notes that "the community understands the benefits of medical insurance, but not everyone understands all the options out there".
Some are concerned about the state of public health provision under a belt-tightening government.
If you previously suffered from a bad leg or eye, it does not mean you cannot be covered for heart care
"There is a cloud over health budgets. People are worried that waiting lists will go up and that there will be a post code lottery. They want cleanliness and speed of service - the assurance that should they need to see a specialist, they will not have to wait."
It is no great surprise that Mr Collins extols the virtues of enlisting the services of an insurance broker. But, for example, he promises that Medischeme can secure special deals that are not available to individual purchasers.
He also points out the drawbacks of using price-comparison websites.
"You don't speak to anyone and the chances are you don't understand what you are getting."
You will receive no inkling that the level of cover is not all you assumed until you need to make a claim.
Mr Collins maintains that you are never too old - or indeed too young - to take out core cover "that won't cost the earth". Medischeme can find customers of 60 and above a policy with premiums starting at £55 a month, providing comprehensive cover for London hositals and outpatient diagnostic treatment. For the 50-plus, the cost starts at £37.
At the other end of the age scale, children are being given health insurance as presents by savvy grandparents and Mr Collins has noticed greater interest from young people wanting to insure for the big ticket items, heart and cancer.
Another way of reducing costs is choosing a policy with a "no claims" bonus. Mr Collins believes these "are fantastic as long as you appreciate the risks".
In some cases, it is cheaper for the policy-holder to meet a small private medical expense, because of the impact a claim can have on the premium.
He adds that "a lot of people feel that no one will insure them if they have an existing condition. That is not the case, although there may be exclusions. If you have a bad leg, it does not mean that you cannot be covered for heart care."
Obviously, it will help to keep costs down if you only insure for types of care that you genuinely require - as Mr Collins notes, pregnancy cover within a policy is going to be worthless to a pensioner.
To this end, he is heartened by the imminent launch of a personal healthcare scheme from Pru Health - which last year took over Standard Life Healthcare. This scheme is tailored to customers' health needs and pocket.
There is a basic model of cover, which the policy-holder can augment with additional hospitals, outpatient consultancy, dental, private GP hotline, even travel cover. "Just choose what suits your budget."