Private Health Insurance
- Avoid NHS waiting lists and access treatment quicker
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What is health insurance?
Private health insurance, also known as medical insurance, is a policy designed to cover the cost of private healthcare.
It typically covers the cost of private medical treatment for health conditions that develop after your policy starts. Different types of policy offer different levels of cover, so prices can vary considerably.
Some policies give you fast-track diagnostics and treatments, or even treatments not available on the NHS. You can also choose who you want your policy to cover – whether that’s just you, or you and your partner, or your family. You’ll pay a monthly Direct Debit to your insurance provider, then claim when you need to.
What does private health insurance cover?
What your private medical insurance covers depends on the type of policy and level of cover you take out.
Could be covered:
- Inpatient treatment
- Outpatient care (e.g. follow up tests, scans etc.)
Could be excluded:
- Pre-existing conditions
- Chronic conditions (asthma, diabetes etc.)
- Emergency treatment
- Cosmetic surgery
What optional extras can you get with private health insurance?
In some cases, you can tailor your private medical insurance policy to your needs and budget. You could include add-ons like:
- Dental care
- Eye care
- Complementary medicine
- Mental health cover
- Pregnancy or maternity services.
What are the benefits of private medical insurance?
Private medical insurance usually gives you:
Reduced waiting times
Meaning faster access to consultants, tests, therapies and treatment.
Be treated by experts in their field.
Choice of surgeon and hospital
You can usually choose a specialist and hospital that suits you. However, your insurance provider may pick one for you.
Enjoy a more comfortable stay, with facilities like TVs and en-suite rooms.
Recovery and aftercare
Get fast access to treatments such as physiotherapy.
Possible access to treatments and drugs not available on the NHS.
The potential disadvantages of private healthcare
- It can be expensive – especially as you get older
- Pre-existing medical conditions aren’t usually covered
- Chronic illnesses aren’t usually covered
- Injuries from high-risk activities (like extreme sports) aren’t usually covered
What types of health insurance policies are available?
Getting the right health insurance for your needs is half the battle. First, you should decide why you want it and who you want it to cover.
- Individual health insurance – get fast access to medical care if you become ill or injured, avoiding NHS waiting times. You’ll probably get more choice of consultant and hospital, too.
- Joint health insurance – covers both you and your partner. This is often cheaper than taking out two separate policies, but not always.
- Family health insurance – covering your whole family under the same policy is likely to be cheaper than buying each family member individual cover.
- Child health insurance – enjoy the reassurance that if your child becomes ill, they’ll receive fast treatment in private hospitals and clinics.
- Self-employed health insurance - because you can choose when and where you’re treated, private healthcare can be invaluable if you’re self-employed or have inflexible working hours.
Before you start comparing policies, check if you already have private health insurance through your employer.
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How does private health insurance work?
Private health insurance works in much the same way as any other insurance. You pay a monthly or yearly fee, known as a premium. You’ll also agree an excess, which is your contribution to any claim. In return, you can claim for the cost of private medical care, rather than paying for it yourself or accessing NHS treatment.
How to get started with private healthcare
If you have a policy and develop a health problem, see your GP as normal but tell them you have private cover and ask what options are available. They can recommend a specialist or private treatment centre – or you may want to choose your own. If you’re not sure who to see or where to go for treatment, ask your GP for an open referral letter. Some comprehensive private medical insurance policies give you access to a private GP to begin diagnosis and make any necessary referrals or provide a prescription as part of your claim.
How to make a claim
Start by contacting your insurance provider, who’ll tell you what to do. If your NHS GP has given you a referral letter, you’ll need to share this with your insurance provider. If your policy covers the private treatment you need, your insurance provider will approve the claim, and take you through your options. They’ll make you aware of any limits on your policy and can help you find the right consultants, if you’re not sure where to go.
How much does health insurance cost?
How much you pay for your health insurance will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- Your age – as you get older you’re more likely to develop health issues, which will be reflected in higher premiums.
- Your postcode – you may have to pay more for your private health insurance if you live in London or other major cities, where hospitals and private treatment centres tend to be more expensive.
- Your cover level – comprehensive cover is more expensive than a basic plan, while optional extras could also push up your premium.
- Your excess level – paying a higher excess could bring down the price of your premium. Just make sure you can afford it if you need to make a claim.
What to consider when choosing private health insurance
Here’s what to keep in mind when comparing health insurance quotes:
Acomprehensive policy will cover most eventualities without a cost limit. Cheaper policies set a cap on how much you can claim.
Some hospitals, such as those in London and other major cities, may charge more.
There might be incentives, such as discounts on gym memberships.
For example, you could find the policy only covers limited outpatient treatment or doesn’t include it at all.
Your health insurance is likely to get more expensive as you get older, as you're more likely to make a claim.
Look out for a listed deferred period. For example, you can’t make a claim within the first three months.
How can I cut the cost of private health insurance?
Here are some ways to reduce the cost of your health insurance:
1. Pay a bigger excess
But make sure this is realistic and affordable, because you’ll need to pay it before any claim can be processed.
2. Settle for reduced outpatient cover
Having less outpatient cover, or none at all, could reduce your premiums.
3. Agree on a reduced hospital list
You’ll have access to a more limited range of hospitals, so make sure there are suitable options.
4. Agree to a ‘six-week option’
Some insurance providers won’t let you make a claim if NHS treatment is available within six weeks.
What our expert says...
“News of huge NHS waiting lists has naturally prompted a renewed interest in private health insurance. But don't forget that many procedures need to be carried out in fully equipped NHS settings anyway, and that health insurance offers far more than just queue-jumping, including valuable benefits that are under-used.
For example, many policies now offer telephone-based mental health support as standard that you, and even family members that don't have their own policy, can access as often as you like, for free.”
- Kate Hughes, Insurance expert
What do I need to get a health insurance quote?
To find you a suitable quote, we’ll need to know:
1. Type of policy
Are you travelling in the UK, Europe or beyond? Are you looking for an individual policy, a joint policy or a family policy?
2. Level of cover
How much cover do you want? Think about potential medical costs. Do you need extra cover for any activities or sports?
3. Personal details
You’ll need to share details like your age, address etc.
If you’d like to speak to someone about the type of policy you need, call our expert partner, Assured Futures on 0808 141 1334.Start a quote
Frequently asked questions
Do I have to review my health insurance every year?
Some insurance providers automatically renew your private healthcare cover so you don’t need to do anything.
However, it’s a good idea to compare policies when yours is ending, to make sure you’re still getting the cheapest deal for the cover you need.
Is there an age limit for health insurance?
You’ll usually need to be over 18 to take out your own policy, but anyone younger can normally be added to a family policy.
There can also be an upper age limit for private health insurance. Even if there isn’t, you’ll typically pay more the older you are.
Is it better to pay monthly or annually for health insurance?
Like many insurance products, you can save by paying for health insurance annually, rather than monthly. But it depends on your insurance provider. They should tell you which way works out cheapest.
Do I need private health insurance if I’m covered through work?
If the organisation you work for offers private health insurance as part of your benefits package, you probably don’t need extra medical cover.
However, you might find there’s a limit on the cover you receive or it may not cover your whole family. It’s worth remembering that any insurance you get through work will only cover you for as long as you work there and will end as soon as you leave.
Will I need a medical exam to get covered?
No, if you don’t have any pre-existing conditions, you don’t usually need a medical to get cover.
You’ll just need to fill out a medical history form and choose your level of cover. Some health plans may offer you a general health assessment if you want one.
If you have a pre-existing condition, you might need to give the healthcare provider permission to access your medical records or contact your GP.
Do I need a GP referral to access private healthcare?
Not always – you can get private treatment without a referral from your GP.
However, some insurance providers won’t cover your treatment without a GP referral, so check first if you’re planning to claim.
Will my policy cover me outside of the UK?
No, health insurance policies are designed for cover in the UK.
If you need cover abroad for a short trip, choose a travel insurance policy with good medical care to cover you for accidents and emergencies.
If you’re living or working abroad, or have a holiday home overseas and spend part of the year there, you may want to consider international health insurance.
Some providers offer private health insurance plans for home and abroad, but you may have to pay more for your premium.
What’s the difference between health insurance and critical illness cover?
Private health insurance takes care of your medical treatment if you get ill, while critical illness cover offers extra help if you develop one of the named critical illnesses.
For example, it can cover loss of income if you’re unable to work. These policies fulfil different needs so might offer different payouts. Private health insurance is often a one-year policy, while critical illness cover is usually bought for the long term.
How are health insurance premiums taxed? Are they tax deductible?
If your company provides you with private health insurance, it’s considered a ‘benefit in kind’, which means that it’s not tax deductible.
You’ll have to pay tax on any insurance premiums as reported in the P11D your employer will give you.
There are some exceptions for small companies, for example, where it could be considered a business expense. Your insurance provider should be able to tell you if you’re eligible for this exemption, or you can check with HM Revenue & Customs.
How does the excess work?
When you buy a policy, you can choose how much excess you pay – that is, how much you’ll contribute to the cost of treatment if you make a claim.
Depending on your insurance provider, you could set your excess at zero, £100, or even £1,000.
The higher your excess, the lower your premium is likely to be.
You’ll usually pay an excess on a claim once per person, per policy year – although some providers charge each time you claim. Others may offer you both options. Always read your policy terms and conditions so you know when you’ll have to pay an excess.
What is a pre-existing condition?
A pre-existing condition is anything you’ve had previously had medical treatment for.
Common conditions include diabetes, heart disease and asthma. Most insurance providers count any condition you’ve had symptoms or treatment for in the past five years, even if you were diagnosed more than five years ago.
Not all providers set the limit at five years though, so read your policy documents carefully and compare the options before buying.
How can I find the best UK private health insurance?
To find the best health insurance for you, it’s always worth comparing a variety of policies.
You can then see which offer the features you need, at a price you can afford. What’s best for someone else might not be right for you, so you’ll need to consider your personal circumstances and what you want from your policy.
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