Health insurance helps cover the cost of private treatment for pre-agreed conditions.
You'll sometimes hear it called private medical insurance (PMI), but in most cases the product is the same – although exactly what's covered will vary from policy to policy.
You’ll pay a monthly or annual premium and when you need to access private medical care, your insurance policy will cover some or all of these costs.
Double check you don’t already have health insurance through your employer before taking out your own cover. Some companies offer private healthcare as part of a benefits package. It tends to be for the employee only, but sometimes it extends to your family too.
To make sure you choose the right type of health insurance, first work out who you want it to cover:
This is a policy that covers you for private medical care. Your partner and family won’t be covered by your policy.
Family health insurance can cover your whole household for one monthly premium.
You'll all be able to get faster access to a wider range of treatments than you might be offered on the NHS.
A joint policy covers you and your partner.
Again, some employers offer joint health insurance as part of your work benefits so it’s worth checking with them first.
International health insurance covers the cost of treatment for you and your family while you’re living abroad.
It’s different to travel insurance, which will only cover healthcare costs during shorter trips.
It depends on the level of cover you have.
Basic health insurance policies will cover:
Mid-level policies usually include the above, plus:
Comprehensive policies include all of the above, as well as:
Health insurance policies don’t generally cover:
You might think you don't need private health insurance if you’re entitled to treatment on the NHS. But PMI works alongside your NHS treatment, giving you faster access to a greater range of treatments.
You’ll pay monthly or yearly premiums and choose your excess at the outset. The excess is the amount you agree to pay towards your treatment cost.
For example, if your excess is £100 and you have a treatment costing £500, your insurance will cover £400 and you’ll pay the £100 excess yourself.
If you get ill, you’ll need to make an appointment with your GP first.
Tell your GP that you have private medical insurance. They’ll be able to refer you for any private treatment that’s available under your policy.
Next, contact your insurer on their claims line.
They’ll be able to check your treatments covered and start the claims process.
This depends on your personal circumstances and the level of cover you need.
Your personal circumstances include things like your age, whether you smoke or vape, where you live and your medical history.
Whether you choose a basic, medium or comprehensive policy, your voluntary excess and how many nominated hospitals you choose will all affect the price too.
You might be able to bring your premium down by choosing a six-week wait option on your policy. This means that if the NHS waiting list is less than six weeks for the treatment you need, you’ll have it done on the NHS instead.
There are only a few steps to compare health insurance policies:
And when you want it to start, your budget and your postcode
It’s just a few details, such as your date of birth, gender and whether you smoke
Compare your options and choose the health insurance that’s right for you
Private health insurance has its advantages:
But it isn’t a cure-all:
There are a few steps you can take to bring costs down:
Non-smokers usually get a cheaper deal. There are NHS support services that can help you quit
Your company may offer free healthcare – check before you buy a policy
But only if you’d be able to afford to pay that amount upfront
A lump sum generally works out cheaper than monthly premiums
Certain insurers will give you a cheaper deal if you stay fit
Are there any treatments you feel you could cut from your policy?
Compare your options to make sure you’re getting a great deal
The NHS is responsible for Covid-19 diagnosis and treatment so the pandemic can be closely monitored. This means it’s unlikely coronavirus testing or treatment would be covered by private healthcare.
But some policies do pay out if you’re diagnosed with and/or treated for Covid-19 via the NHS, as long as you have NHS cash benefit included in your policy.
Some will also include treatment for mental health conditions related to coronavirus, if you have mental health cover. It’s best to check your policy or contact the insurer to find out exactly what’s covered.
It’s up to you. Health insurance gives you access to treatment quickly at private hospitals – skipping waiting lists or accessing drugs that aren’t available through the NHS.
Depending on how extensive the cover is, whether you’re trying to get cover for a pre-existing medical condition, or whether you want to add your family, private medical cover can get expensive.
If you’re considering going private for particular reasons, check policy documents when you’re comparing insurers to make sure you’re covered for what you need.
Dental insurance is one – this can pay out to help you with NHS or private treatment.
You’ll pay an upfront sum and then claim it back through your insurance.
Healthcare cash plans are different to health insurance. They’re payment plans that can include things like optician costs, dental treatment and physiotherapy.
You pay a monthly amount into the scheme. Then, if you receive medical treatment, you send the receipt to your insurer who will reimburse you.
The benefits of being a private patient will depend on your policy but could include:
Have a think about:
If you’re self-employed, you won’t be able to get tax relief as the insurance isn’t directly related to your business.
Switching insurers is usually a smooth transition. However, you should check with your current provider to make sure you’ll be covered, even while you’re making the move.
If you leave your current insurer before the term of contract is complete, you may be charged.
Read the terms and conditions of your policy carefully before you take the plunge.
Private healthcare could offer your child benefits including:
But private health insurance shouldn't be seen as a replacement for the NHS – your child can still access free NHS treatment.
Eye care cover (sometimes known as optical cover) pays for treatment and medication for certain optical conditions.
Most insurers won’t cover optical care as standard – it usually comes as an optional extra you can add to your policy at an additional cost.
Find the answers in our health insurance guides