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Cancer and health insurance

Cancer and health insurance

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Last updated: 08 November 2021

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be one of the most devastating and stressful things that will ever happen to you. The first thing to remember when this happens is that there are various treatment options available to you, but you should always consult your GP before you make any decision. 

Many are now turning to private healthcare for a host of cancer treatments, from radiotherapy to experimental drugs. In most cases, the NHS will offer more breadth of treatments when it comes to a chronic condition such as cancer. This is either because private healthcare professionals do not have the facilities, or because private insurance companies generally do not accept people with pre-existing conditions. 

This guide will take you through the basics of health insurance when you have cancer. 

Why should I get health insurance if I have cancer?

The most important thing to remember is to seek advice from your doctor before you proceed with paying for any private treatment. Your doctor will tell you whether there are any treatments that could affect you but that are not currently on the NHS. There are a few reasons why someone would choose to have private health insurance over getting their cancer treatment on the NHS 

  • Some treatment could increase the chances of curing your cancer or controlling it for a longer period of time. Often this involves more experimental or groundbreaking treatments, that would not be available on the NHS. 
  • In some cases, it might only give you the ability to manage the cancer for a short time, which could still be worth the cost for you, depending on your specific situation.
  • It gives you more flexibility, can be treated in an NHS hospital and receive NHS cash benefit. 

What will a health insurance policy cover for cancer?

Health insurance often doesn’t cover chronic condition such as cancer. Health Insurance is traditionally designed to cover more acute injuries, for example if you sprain your ankle or elective surgeries such as cosmetic work. Cancer cover can be included in your policy but may affect the price of your premiums, the policy will cover treatments such as chemotherapy, or may cover specific experimental drugs that are unavailable on the NHS, should you get cancer in the future. 

Can I get health insurance after diagnosis?

Unfortunately, most policies will not pay for treatment should you have already been diagnosed. Cover for any pre-existing conditions is much harder to find, as the chance you will make a claim is almost certain. It’s not impossible to get health insurance in this case, but it will make it much more expensive if you are diagnosed, or in remission. Some insurers will offer cover with no raised premium if you have been symptom-free for a certain amount of time. Again, it’s important to consult your GP before you take any steps to purchase health insurance.

What is NHS Cash Benefit?

If you have health insurance cover but you prefer the oncologist in an NHS hospital, you might want to opt for NHS treatment as opposed to private medical treatment. If this is the case, your insurance policy will give you ‘cashback’ (financial support) as you will not be using their services. This is usually calculated on a day rate over a certain amount of time. 

What can private health insurance offer that the NHS can’t?

In general, the more specialised equipment is actually available in NHS hospitals and not private centres. Private insurance can offer some specific drugs that are not available on the NHS, but it’s important to remember that the NHS can offer many of these drugs as well. Still, certain treatments that are available on private insurance and possibly not on the NHS are: 

  • Specific Hormone Therapies: Some strands of cancer can be controlled through controlling hormones as opposed to radiotherapy. 
  • Biological therapies: These are targeted forms of treatment that can stop or attack cancer cells. Insurers might offer access to drugs such as ‘Avastin’, which can be used for bowel or kidney cancer. 

If you have any questions about your treatment and options, speak to your NHS consultant or GP for advice.

For more information on the benefits of private health insurance, read our guide on private healthcare vs the NHS.


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Fergus Cole

Author: Fergus Cole

Fergus is a journalist specialising in the personal finance, energy and broadband sectors. He also has a passion for travel and adventure so tries to make the most of this in any spare time he gets.

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