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Last updated: 08 November 2021
15% of the British population are self-employed and the number is rising as people embrace the flexibility and freedom of freelancing or starting their own businesses. But self-employment means forfeiting employer-funded perks and benefits, which can include private health insurance.
However, maintaining your health and accessing advanced treatment quickly is even more crucial for freelancers, consultants, and business owners, who don’t receive statutory sick pay while they’re unwell and unable to work.
Fortunately, independent workers can fund their own health insurance with a range of insurance products offering different levels of cover.
How does health insurance work?
Health insurance refers to private medical insurance policies which can cover all or part of the cost of some private medical treatments, and premiums are charged monthly or anually.
Private medical insurance in Britain is designed to supplement NHS care. You’ll still need to use free NHS treatment in emergencies and for pre-existing conditions, but you will be able to claim for the cost of private treatment for ‘unforeseen’ events.
Other exclusions on these policies commonly include primary care appointments, cosmetic treatments, and for conditions like HIV/AIDs. Different policies will have different exclusions however, so when you compare health insurance it’s crucial to read the fine print.
The amount you can claim for treatment may also be capped: either with an overall lifetime cap or a cap for certain types of treatment - for instance, a £100,000 lifetime limit on palliative care for cancer.
Your monthly premiums will be based on your general health, which will be examined in the underwriting and application process. You’ll need to be forthcoming about things like pre-existing conditions, treatment you’ve previously received, your smoking and drinking habits, and your BMI, all of which can impact the cost and level of cover.
Why should you consider health insurance if you’re self-employed?
Private care can allow you to skip NHS waiting lists for appointments, referrals, surgery, and access advanced treatments. Self-employed people don’t have access to statutory sick pay and will want to minimise disruption to their careers and businesses. Recovering quickly and getting back to work is of the utmost importance for independent workers, and private health insurance can ensure you get back on your feet, and back to work, as quickly as possible
Here’s why else you should consider private health insurance:
- Shorter waiting times for referrals and surgery.
- Access to private health facilities, doctors, hospitals, and treatments.
- Access to appointments and care at times that suit you - including evenings and weekends.
- Private rooms in hospitals and clinics, not only giving you privacy but also reducing your risk of hospital-acquired infections.
- Possible access to advanced treatments and medications not available on the NHS - especially cancer drugs.
What to consider when buying health insurance if you’re self-employed
- Primary care, or care at the GP level, isn’t covered, except by the most expensive plans. So your health insurance policy won’t be much use for sick days, even if your GP could magically cure the flu.
- Pre-existing or chronic conditions, including those acquired in your line of work, will generally be excluded from coverage
- You can also consider a health care cash plan, which can reimburse you for all or part of the cost of treatments including dental, optical and physiotherapy care. These plans are often offered as perks for employers but can be a sensible purchase for self-employed people, especially if you or your family (often covered for no additional cost) wear prescription lenses or need extensive dental care. Unlike private medical insurance, they can cover routine appointments and management of chronic conditions.
- Make sure your insurer’s approved hospitals and facilities are convenient for you to access and offer the range of appointment times to suit a freelancer’s lifestyle
- For greater flexibility you might want to consider a major medical expenses plan, which gives you a fixed payout to allow you to pay for medical treatment arranged yourself, from whatever facility is most convenient. These plans offer the flexibility that is valued by self-employed people.