Money: Ill health can seriously damage your wealth

Britain's health service is one of the world's best, yet one in eight of us has private medical insurance. Other health insurances help plug
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The Independent Online
Health insurance is not just a luxury. More people suffer from serious medical problems, long-term illnesses and disabling accidents than die before their time.

Every day 850 people are killed or injured in road accidents, 700 are diagnosed as having cancer (of whom 40 per cent will survive for at least five years) and 800 suffer a heart attack. At least one in five of us will suffer from a serious illness during our working life.

In the event of long-term illness, or injury that prevents you from working, where will you get the money to pay the household bills, council tax and mortgage, let alone provide an adequate standard of living? Most employers will only pay, at best, six month's salary, some of which may be at half pay. State benefits are low - only pounds 62.45p a week for anyone off work for more than 28 weeks. Help from the state with mortgage interest payments is only available after six months.

However, much of the healthcare and medical insurance market is unregulated, and some sales tactics have prompted warnings from consumer groups. Many policies are not comparable, with some excluding illnesses which others cover, and some restricting types of treatment. Some delay paying out, while others pay on diagnosis. This survey aims to help guide you through the complications and avoid many of the common pitfalls.