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What is health insurance?

Private health insurance is an insurance policy designed to cover the cost of private healthcare. It will typically cover you for surgery associated with ‘acute conditions’, like a hip replacement or having a hernia removed. You can buy different types of policies that offer various levels of cover, at varying costs. This could include fast-track diagnostics for cancer or access to different cancer treatments not currently available on the NHS.

So what’s on offer, and is it right for you?

What types of health insurance policies are available?

Getting the right health insurance for your needs is half the battle. Firstly, decide why you want it and who you want it to cover.

  • Individual health insurance can give you fast access to medical care if you become ill or injured, avoiding lengthy NHS waiting times. You might already have this through your employer.
  • Family health insurance can cover your whole family under the same policy. This can sometimes work out cheaper than buying individual cover for each of the people you love.
  • Child health insurance covers the cost of private healthcare for your child if they become ill. It gives you reassurance that they’ll get fast treatment in private hospitals and clinics. Currently, you can’t compare standalone child health insurance through us.
  • Joint health insurance covers the health of both you and your partner. It can be cheaper than taking out two separate policies, although this isn’t always the case.

What does health insurance cover?

Private healthcare policies range from basic through to comprehensive.

Basic policies typically cover:

  • any in-patient treatment you might need
  • the cost of your hospital stay

Medium policies typically cover:

  • all of the above, as well as outpatient treatments

Comprehensive policies typically cover:

  • full in-patient and outpatient care, plus extra support like mental health care, physiotherapy and home nursing

What optional extras can you get with private health insurance?

In some cases, you’ll be given the option of tailoring the policy exactly to your needs , as well as your budget. You could include add-ons like:

  • dental care
  • eye care
  • physiotherapy
  • homeopathy
  • mental health support
  • pregnancy or maternity services

How does private health insurance work?

Private healthcare works in a similar way to other types of insurance. You’ll pay a monthly or yearly amount, which is known as a premium. You’ll also agree an excess, which is the amount you pay towards any claim you make. In return, you can claim for the cost of private medical treatment you receive, rather than paying for it all yourself or getting it on the NHS.

If you develop a health problem, see your GP as normal, but let them know you have private health cover. If you’re referred to a specialist, you’ll need to tell your insurance provider that you want to make a claim. If the private treatment you need is covered by your policy, your provider will approve your claim, take you through your options and pay for your medical costs.

What are the benefits of private medical insurance?

Private medical insurance usually gives you:

  • Quicker access to consultants, tests and treatment
  • Private hospitals often have facilities to make your stay more comfortable, like TVs and private en-suite rooms.
  • In some instances, access to treatment and drugs that aren’t widely available on the NHS
  • Greater control over which hospital you go to, and when - you usually have a choice of private hospitals.

Because you can often choose when and where you’re treated, access to private healthcare can be invaluable if you’re self-employed or have a job with inflexible working hours. Find out more about health insurance for self-employed people.

The downside of private healthcare is that it tends to be very expensive, and chronic illnesses aren’t usually covered.

How much does health insurance cost?

The cost of health insurance varies from policy to policy. It depends on a number of things, including how many people you want to insure, the level of cover you need and how many optional extras you want to add.

Your age and lifestyle will also affect how much you pay. Older people are likely to pay more because they’re deemed to be at greater risk of needing medical treatment. Smokers are also thought of as high risk.

When you compare health insurance with us, you can choose from different options to find the cover you need, at a price that fits your budget.

Frequently asked questions

Can I claim on my health insurance if I get COVID-19?

Hopefully, you won’t need to. Most people who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms (or even no symptoms at all) and recover relatively quickly. If you do need treatment because of coronavirus, you should call NHS 111, or 999, depending on the seriousness of the situation. Then follow the guidance you’re given about what you should do.

If you need to go into hospital with COVID-19, you should be able to get an NHS cash benefit payment from your insurance provider if you have this as part of your policy.

Read more about coronavirus and medical insurance.

What kinds of things aren’t covered by private medical insurance?

Private medical insurance is largely designed to complement NHS care and won’t usually cover you for pre-existing conditions, or chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. If these affect you, then you should always make sure you know what your policy covers and that you’re happy with any exclusions.

You won’t be covered for cosmetic surgery, fertility treatment and injuries caused by dangerous activities. Plus, you’ll still need to use the NHS for accident and emergency treatment.

What’s the process for getting private health insurance?

When you compare health insurance quotes at Compare the Market, we’ll initially ask you questions about yourself, like what your job is, your age, where you live and whether you smoke. We’ll then show you a list of quotes to choose from.

Once you’ve made an application, insurance providers may ask you for more details, including whether you have any pre-existing conditions. They might also ask general health and wellbeing questions to build up a picture of how healthy your lifestyle is and what the likelihood is of you making a claim.

What should I consider when choosing private health insurance?

Here are some of the important things to keep in mind when you compare health insurance quotes:

  • Level of cover – some insurance providers will have tiered pricing levels. A comprehensive policy will cover you for most eventualities without a cost limit. Less expensive policies will set a cap on how much you can claim for, and these caps will vary according to the treatment involved
  • Hospital location – certain hospitals, for example those in London and other major cities, may charge more, so your postcode could have an effect on policy price. It’s worth considering how far you’re realistically willing to travel to receive treatment
  • Perks – there might be incentives to buy health insurance, for example price reductions on gym memberships as well as discounts on other types of insurance with the same provider
  • Exclusions – if you decide on a very basic policy, take the time to read what the exclusions are and make sure you’re comfortable with what, and what isn’t, included. You could find that the list of outpatient treatment covered by the policy is very limited, or it might not be included at all
  • Cost – the cost of health insurance is likely to increase as you get older, so don’t be surprised if your premium rises after each birthday. This is partly due to inflation, but it also has to cover the cost of advances made in technology and testing. Plus, as you get older, unfortunately there’s a greater chance of you needing to make a claim

How can I cut the cost of private medical insurance?

You can reduce the cost of your health insurance policy by:

  1. choosing to pay a bigger excess – but make sure it’s realistic and affordable because you’ll need to pay it before your claim can be processed
  2. opting for less outpatient cover - or none at all
  3. agreeing to a reduced hospital list – this means you won’t be able to choose from as many hospitals for treatment as you might with a standard policy
  4. choosing a ‘six-week option’ - available from some providers, it means that if the NHS can treat you within six weeks, you won’t be able to make a claim

You might also find that you’re offered a no claims discount – so you’ll be rewarded with a lower premium for every year you don’t make a claim. Some insurance providers will also give you a discount on your premium, or offer you cashback, if you can show you’re generally fit and healthy.

What is a pre-existing condition?

A pre-existing condition is anything you’ve had medical treatment for in the past like diabetes, heart disease or asthma. Most insurance providers count this as any condition you’ve had symptoms or treatment for in the past five years, even if you were diagnosed more than five years ago.

Some providers might set the limit higher or lower than five years though, so always read your policy documents carefully and compare your options before buying.

Does health insurance cover pre-existing conditions?

You can still take out private health insurance if you have a pre-existing condition, but it’s unlikely you’ll be covered for treatment for it.

For instance, if you have asthma, most policies would pay for private treatment if you broke your leg, but not for treatment for your asthma.

Some providers will offer cover for certain pre-existing conditions if they view them as minor or they think the symptoms are unlikely to occur again, but it’s best to speak to an insurance expert for absolute clarity.

Do I have to renew my medical cover every year?

Some insurance providers will automatically renew your private healthcare cover, so you won’t need to do anything yourself. But it’s always a good idea to compare policies when yours is about to run out to make sure you’re still getting the cheapest deal for the cover you need.

Can I add other people to my private health insurance policy?

In most cases, you can. With joint health insurance, you can add your partner to your plan, while family health insurance lets you add your children to your policy. But remember to shop around to find the right deal for you and the people you care about.

Is there an age limit for health insurance?

You’ll usually need to be over the age of 18 to take out your own policy, but anyone younger than that can normally be added to a family policy. There could also be an upper age limit for your 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 often save by paying for health insurance annually rather than monthly. But it really depends on who your insurance provider is. They should let you know which is the cheapest way to pay.

Do I need private health insurance if I am covered through my work?

If the organisation you work for already offers private health insurance as part of your employment benefits package, there’s probably no need to get extra medical cover. But it might not be enough for everyone. For starters, there could be a limit on the amount of cover you get, and it might not cover your whole family. Secondly, any insurance you get through your work will only cover you for as long as your employer continues to offer it and you continue to work there.

Will I have to have a medical to get covered?

No, if you don’t have any pre-existing conditions, you won’t usually have to undergo a medical to get cover. You’ll just need to fill out a medical history form and choose your level of cover. With some health plans you might be able to get a general health assessment if you want one, to make sure you’re in tip-top condition.

If you have a pre-existing condition, you might need to give the healthcare provider permission to access your medical records or to contact your GP.

Compare health insurance quotes

We’re lucky to have the NHS, but there’s no denying that access to private care through health insurance can be reassuring. It’s especially useful if you’re self-employed and need to be treated quickly and at a hospital that’s convenient for you.

You can compare quotes with us now and complete your application online. Or, if you’re still not sure about what policy might suit you best, our colleagues at Assured Futures can help you understand your options and apply offline if you prefer. Call Assured Futures on 0808 1411334.

Compare health insurance quotes now online

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