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What is private 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 policy that each 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. 

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 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. 

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. 

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. Before you start comparing policies, check if you might already have private health insurance through your employer. 
  • 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. 
  • Family health insurance can cover your whole family under the same policy. This can sometimes work out cheaper than buying individual cover for each family member. 
  • 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. 

What does private health insurance cover? 

Private healthcare policies range from treatment only through to treatment and full diagnosis. 
 
Treatment only

Provides cover for either diagnostics only or treatment only. Some basic policies also provide cancer cover.

Treatment and limited diagnosis

Provides full treatment and cancer cover, with limited cover of diagnostics.​

​Treatment and full diagnosis

Provides full cover of diagnostics, treatment and cancer cover. Some providers also include a variety of value-added extras, including complementary therapies, mental health cover and dental cover - however, some providers offer these as optional for extra payment.

How does private health insurance work? 

Private health insurance works in a similar way to other types of insurance. You’ll pay a monthly or yearly amount, 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. 

  • How to access private healthcare

If you develop a health problem, see your GP as normal, but let them know you have private cover and ask what options are available. They should be able to recommend a specialist or private treatment centre – or you might want to choose your own. If you remain unsure who to see or where to go for treatment, simply ask your GP for an open referral letter.  

  • How to make a claim

If you’re referred to a private specialist or treatment centre, you’ll need to tell your insurance provider you want to make a claim and provide them with your referral letter. If the private treatment you need is covered under your policy, your provider will approve the claim, take you through your options, make you aware of any limits within your policy and pay for your medical costs.   

How much does health insurance cost? 

The cost of health insurance varies from policy to policy. It depends on a number of things, including: 

  • Your age – as you get older, the risk of developing health problems and needing medical treatment increases and will likely be reflected in your premium. 
  • Your postcode – you may have to pay more for your private health insurance depending on where you live – for example, London hospitals and private treatment centres tend to be more expensive. 
  • Your cover level – typically, comprehensive cover will be more expensive than a basic plan, while adding optional extras can also push up your premium. 
  • Your excess level – choosing a higher excess level can help to bring down the cost of your premium. Just make sure you can afford the excess should you need to make a claim 

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. 

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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. You can also apply offline if you prefer. Call Assured Futures on 0808 1411334. 

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Frequently asked questions

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

Hopefully, you won’t need to, as many people who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms 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 optional extras can you get with private health insurance?

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

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

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

Private medical insurance is designed to complement NHS care and won’t usually cover you for pre-existing medical conditions or chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis. If these affect you, 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 with Compare the Market, we’ll first ask you some questions about yourself - like your age, where you live and whether you smoke. We’ll then show you a list of available quotes to choose from. 
 
Once you’ve made an application, insurance providers may ask you for more details, including your occupation and whether you have any pre-existing existing medical conditions. They might also ask general health and wellbeing questions to build up a picture of how healthy your lifestyle is and the likelihood 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 have tiered pricing levels. A comprehensive policy will cover you for most eventualities without a cost limit. Cheaper policies will set a cap on how much you can claim for and this will vary according to the treatment involved. 
  • Hospital location – certain hospitals, like 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 or 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 is and isn’t included. You could find that the list of outpatient treatment covered by the policy is very limited or even not 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 also to cover the cost of advances made in technology and testing. Plus, as you get older, there’s a greater chance of you needing to make a claim. 

Find out more about choosing the right private health insurance policy for you.

How can I cut the cost of private medical insurance?

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

  • choosing to pay a bigger excess – but make sure it’s realistic and affordable because you’ll need to pay it before any claim can be processed. 
  • opting for less outpatient cover – or none at all.  
  • agreeing to a reduced hospital list – this means you won’t be able to choose from as many hospitals as you might with a standard policy. 
  • 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 could be rewarded with a reduction in premium for every year you don’t make a claim. Just be aware that the cost of your premium will rise as you get older and may increase if you actually make a claim, so you might not see a reduction in reality. 
 
Some insurance providers will also give you a discount on your premium, or offer cashback, if you can show you’re generally fit and healthy. 

How does the excess work?

When you take out a private health insurance policy, you’ll be able to choose the excess amount – how much you’ll pay towards your treatment if you make a claim. Depending on your insurance provider, you could set your excess at zero, £100, or anything up to £1,000. This will be the amount you’ll need to pay yourself before the policy pay-out kicks in.  
 
So, if you set your excess at £500 and make a claim for private treatment costing £2,500, you’ll pay the first £500 and your insurance provider will stump up the remaining £2,000. 
 
The higher your excess amount, the lower your premium Is likely to be. Just make sure to set your excess at an affordable amount. There’s no point in paying a cheaper premium if you then can’t afford to make a claim.  
 
You’ll usually be charged an excess once per person, per policy year. However, some providers might charge you each time you make a claim and some providers offer you the choice of both. Make sure you read the terms and conditions so you know exactly how the excess works and when it will be charged, before you decide on a policy. 

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 think the symptoms are unlikely to occur again, but it’s best to speak to the insurance provider to be absolutely sure.  

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 way works out the cheapest. 

Do I need private health insurance if I’m 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. 

Do I always 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 the costs of your treatment without a GP referral, so always check first if you’re intending to make a claim.

Will private health insurance affect my right to NHS care?

Not at all. You’ll still be entitled to free treatment on the NHS even if you choose to pay for additional private care.  

What is international health insurance?

International health insurance is a policy designed for people living or working abroad, either temporarily or permanently. For example, you might want international private cover if you have a holiday home abroad and spend part of the year there. Or you might be temporarily relocating overseas for work, studying or volunteering.  
 
While travel insurance can cover you for medical emergencies and accidents abroad, international health insurance offers more comprehensive cover, much in the same way as a UK private health insurance policy. An international health insurance policy is better suited for people actually living abroad, rather than just visiting for a shorter period of time.  
 
Some providers offer private health insurance plans for home and abroad. Just be aware that overseas care is usually included in their premium plans, which are typically more expensive.  

What do I need to get a quote?

To find you a suitable quote, we’ll need to know a few details, including: 

  • How many people you’re looking to insure – do you want individual health insurance, joint cover for you and your partner or a health insurance plan for the whole family? 
  • What level of cover you want 
  • How much excess you want to pay 
  • Where you live 
  • If you smoke

Once we have the information we need, we’ll put together a list of suitable quotes for you to choose from.  

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Why choose Compare the Market? 

Get a quote in 2 minutes***  92.4% of our users would recommend Compare the Market to friends or family**** 

***On average, it can take less than 2 minutes to complete a health insurance quote through Compare the Market based on data in November 2020. 
**** For the period 1st March to 31st May 2021, 9,781 people responded to the recommend question. 9,033 responded with a score of 6 or above, therefore 92.4% are likely to recommend

Kamran Altaf 

Life insurance expert

“The cost of private health insurance and the various plans available can vary a great deal between insurance providers.

The best way to ensure you get the cover you need is to shop around and compare quotes. Don’t automatically assume that the most expensive plan is the best for you.”