Health insurance

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What is health insurance?

Health insurance, often referred to as private medical insurance (PMI), is an insurance policy which helps cover the cost of private treatment for pre-agreed conditions and ailments.

You'll sometimes hear it called PMI, but in most cases the product is the same - although what's covered will vary from policy to policy.

You’ll pay a monthly or annual premium for your insurance and when you need to access private care, your medical covers some or all of these costs.

Quite a few companies offer private healthcare as part of a benefits package. It tends to be for the employee only, but sometimes extends to your family too. Double check you don’t already have health insurance through your employer before taking out your own cover.

In March 2019, there were 4.2m people on NHS waiting lists, according to NHS England

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Do I need health insurance?

It’s entirely 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 private medical for particular reasons, check policy docs when you’re comparing insurers to make sure you’re covered for what you need.

What’s covered by health insurance?

Private health insurance could cover treatments like:

  • In-patient treatments, like routine health checks, tests and surgery
  • Out-patient care, like overnight stays
  • Cash benefit if private treatment takes place in an NHS ward or facility
  • The use of diagnostic equipment
  • Cost of appointments, plus the consultant’s time
  • Prosthetics and wigs

What’s not covered by health insurance

Health insurance policies don’t generally cover:

  • Chronic conditions
  • GP services
  • Accident and emergency admissions
  • Pre-existing conditions
  • Drug abuse
  • Self-inflicted injuries
  • Infertility
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Preventative treatment
  • Mobility aids

How to get private health insurance

Here are a few things we might ask you for

  1. What cover do you want?

    When you want it to start, your budget and your postcode

  2. A bit about you

    A bit about you

  3. Get the cover you need

    Compare your options and choose the health insurance that suits you best

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Types of health insurance

Getting the right health insurance is crucial. First things first, work out which type you’ll need and who you want to cover:

Individual or joint cover

This is a policy that covers you or you and your partner for private medical care.

You might already have health insurance through your employer so it’s worth checking before you take out a policy.

Find out more

Family health insurance

Family health insurance can cover the whole family for one monthly premium.

It’ll pay out a cash sum should anyone need medical assistance.

Find out more

International health insurance

International health insurance can protect you and your family while you’re living abroad.

This could save you from shelling out a huge amount on medical fees.

Find out more

Dental insurance

Dental insurance 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.

Find out more

Healthcare cash plans

With healthcare cash plans, you pay a monthly premium and, if you receive medical treatment, send the receipt to your insurer who will reimburse you.

Find out more

Advantages of private health insurance

Private health insurance has its advantages:

  • Treatment and diagnostic scans can be accessed quickly
  • Extra support with your recovery, things like extended physiotherapy, which you might not be offered through the NHS
  • Access to a wider range of treatments and drugs
  • The freedom to choose - your hospital, consultant and facilities
  • Simple referrals to specialists if you need a second opinion

Disadvantages of private health

But it isn’t a cure-all:

  • It’s expensive and the cost increases as you get older
  • Chronic or incurable conditions are rarely covered, and neither are injuries from high-risk activities you could’ve avoided
  • Pre-existing medical conditions are rarely covered. If you want cover for one, it’ll cost considerably more
  • There’s no guarantee you’ll get access to a particular treatment or drug, or that unconventional treatments will be covered by your policy

How can I cut the cost of health insurance

You could reduce your monthly premiums:

  1. Give up smoking

    Non-smokers usually get a cheaper deal, there are NHS support services that can help

  2. See what your job package offers

    Your company may offer free healthcare – check before you buy a policy

  3. Increase the excess

    But only if you’d be able to afford to pay that amount upfront

  4. Pay annually

    A lump sum generally works out cheaper than monthly premiums

  5. Live a healthy lifestyle

    Certain insurers will give you a cheaper deal if you stay fit

  6. Exclude anything you don’t need

    Are there any treatments you feel you could cut from your policy?

  7. Shop around

    Compare your options to make sure you’re getting a great deal

Frequently asked questions

  • What are the potential benefits of being a private patient?

    The benefits of being a private patient will depend on your policy but could include:

    • Shorter waiting lists than the NHS
    • Private rooms, possibly with own en-suite
    • Facilities such as a television
    • Possible access to a wider range of treatments than what is available on the NHS
  • How much will a private medical insurance policy cost?

    This is dependent on the policy you choose and your individual circumstances, including the level of cover you require.

  • What factors will affect the cost of my health insurance?

    Insurers will consider many different factors when calculating your insurance premium such as:

    • Your age
    • Whether you smoke or vape
    • How much your voluntary excess is
    • Level of outpatient cover you need
    • How many nominated hospitals you choose
    • Your medical history

    You might be able to bring your premium down further 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.

  • What should I consider when choosing private health insurance?

    Have a think about:

    • What conditions you’d like to cover
    • What treatments you’d want on the policy
    • What level of cover you need
    • Your budget
    • How long you’re happy to wait before you make a claim (there may be a qualifying period)
  • Are health insurance premiums tax deductible?

    If you’re self-employed, you won’t be able to get tax relief as the insurance isn’t directly related to your business.

  • Can I switch to another policy without losing my cover?

    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.

  • Can I cancel anytime?

    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.

  • Any other questions?

    Find the answers in our health insurance guides.

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Guides on health insurance

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