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Last updated: 08 November 2021
While most medical treatment in the UK is free on the NHS, it’s hard to avoid contributing something to your family’s medical costs - prescriptions, eye tests and prescription lenses, dental check-ups and work, physiotherapy appointments, and for alternative treatments.
Health insurance cash plans offer cash back on your family’s medical outgoings. You pay a monthly fee that entitles you to refunds from your insurer for your optical, dental, and other health care.
These policies are different from private medical insurance and can be a cheaper way to manage auxiliary and routine medical costs, especially if you’re primarily using the NHS.
What is a health insurance cash plan?
Health insurance cash plans are insurance plans that help you meet the costs of routine healthcare, such as visits to the dentist and optician. The provider will refund you, up to a certain amount, for the amount you pay for appointments and treatment.
Treatments covered by health insurance cash plans include optical, dental, and physio care. Some policies will also include complementary treatments, for general health and well-being. These can include aromatherapy, massages, chiropractic adjustments, allergy testing, cosmetic tooth whitening, medical pedicures, osteopathy, acupuncture, and homoeopathy.
How do cash plans differ from private medical insurance?
Private medical insurance covers you for unforeseen medical events that take place after you take out the policy. They usually exclude treatment for pre-existing conditions and for things like dental and optical care. They’re usually taken out if you want to use private medical care rather than free NHS treatment.
Health insurance cash plans, in contrast, can cover routine and ongoing care, including for pre-existing conditions. They’re often bought to be used in conjunction with NHS treatment, as they cover things that aren’t offered for free on the NHS, including dental care, eye tests and prescription lenses, physiotherapy appointments, and alternative treatments.
Because they cover different things, you can hold both types of policies at the same time. In fact, it may make sense to do so.
How do health insurance cash plans work?
You pay a monthly premium for the plan which depends on the level of cover you choose. The plan will then reimburse you for your medical costs during that year, within certain limits.
For example, a plan may come with a £300 dental benefit and a £300 optical benefit. Typically, you can claim up to six times what you pay in premiums over the year.
Some plans cover 100% of all expenses up to their limit and then can contribute 50% of everything else. However, if you don’t use up to your limit each year the money will simply vanish and can’t be claimed back.
To claim money back for your medical treatment, you’ll need to hang onto any paperwork related to the treatment and then submit it to your cash plan provider. They will then reimburse you based on the terms and limits of your policy.
Most individual or couple plans will allow you to cover the treatment of children for no additional cost, making them family plans.
Are health insurance cash plans worth it?
If you take out more than you pay into the healthcare cash plan each year, then it’s worth it to have a cash plan. However, these plans operate with the assumption that most people will put in more than they take out. This is especially true if you require little dental or optical care each year - for instance if you have healthy, white teeth and don’t need corrective lenses.
If you do wear glasses or contacts, if you have complex dental needs or a mouth that frequently requires fillings or root canals, or if you’re a frequent user of alternative treatments, a cash plan might be for you.
But before you take one out, see if your employer already offers one through your benefit package. Cash plans are a popular perk for staff. However, if you do receive a cash plan as an employee benefit, you’ll pay a 20% tax on the premiums if you earn above the personal allowance each year. But this should work out to be just a few pounds a month.
Compare health insurance cash plans
When you compare health insurance cash plans, look at the level of premiums and also the cover offered, including the treatments you can claim for and the annual limits. Try to find a policy that matches you and your family’s healthcare needs.
For instance, if several members of your family wear glasses, you should look for a policy that offers a robust optical benefit. Conversely, if you have healthy teeth and don’t require dental care beyond routine check-ups and cleanings, make sure you’re not paying for hundreds of pounds of dental cover each year.