Private health insurance — sometimes known as medical insurance or private medical insurance — is an insurance policy that covers the cost of health care if you fall ill. Typically, it works alongside the NHS and often gives shorter wait times and offers you a preferred choice of location or treatment.
You’ll pay a monthly sum that should typically cover the costs for any private treatment you’ll need. This can be anything from consultations to surgery or even any emergency treatment.
How much does UK private health insurance cost?
According to ActiveQuote, the average price for UK private health insurance is £1,155 a year (correct as of September 2021).
As with many insurance policies, the cost of private medical insurance can vary from person to person, so it’s not easy to generalise how much it would cost.
Your age and location are two influential factors that can change how much you’ll pay. Areas such as Westminster and Camden have higher life expectancy rates than those who live in Blackpool or Dundee City, so this will affect how much an individual will pay. As Westminster and Camden have access to better hospital facilities, health insurers take these personal circumstances into account when they calculate your premium.
What does typical private health insurance cost?
Usually, private health insurance is designed to provide cover for non-routine tests and treatments for any health conditions that may arise after your cover begins. You must select the cover for them and make sure that they’re not excluded by your policy. Some insurers will ask for proof of referral by your GP.
- — Access to breakthrough treatments that aren’t readily available on the NHS is a huge benefit to private medical care. Usually, most insurance policies include full cancer cover within their standard plans, but each insurer can differ on what’s actually included.
- — Most insurers offer some level of support for maintaining good mental health in their basic cover. AXA offers optional extras that you can add to your policy including psychiatric treatment. This also includes no limits on specialist fees, treatment by psychologists and cognitive-behavioural therapists. Access to a digital GP is also included in many plans, as well as support over the phone, which is something that Bupa offers.
- — Out-paitent treatment can usually be covered in full, in part or not at all. With this type of cover you’ll get access to diagnostic tests, consultations and procedures which don’t require you to stay overnight at the hospital.
- — In-patient treatment is usually provided as standard in most private health care plans. This refers to any treatment you’ll need that results in you staying overnight at hospital.
- — Some insurance policies offer additional extra treatments with different holistic approaches. This can include anything from chiropractic to osteopathy and anything in between.
If you are considering private medical insurance, read our guide to the best UK health insurance providers.
What does private medical insurance offer?
Private medical insurance can offer a lot of benefits:
- — According to the NHS website, the maximum time for non-urgent, consult-led treatment is 18 weeks from the day your appointment is booked (correct as of September 2021). According to recent data from the NHS published in January 2021, 84.4% of people were seen by a specialist within two weeks of an urgent referral for suspected cancer and 94% of people began first definitive treatment within 31 days of receiving a cancer diagnosis. Private health insurance offers the chance to reduce wait times — or avoid them entirely — which could identify and treat diseases or illnesses quicker and allow for faster treatment.
- — Typically when getting treatment on the NHS, you’re assigned a hospital and appointment time. With private health insurance, you’re offered the luxury of choosing your appointment time, your specialist and hospital preferences. This means that you can fit your treatments around your schedule, and pick a time that suits you.
- — As some cutting-edge treatments are too expensive to be deemed cost-efficient on the NHS, some private medical insurance will cover the cost.
- — Usually, patients on the NHS will be given a bed in a shared room with other patients. Most patients with private medical insurance will benefit from a private room, free parking, a-la-carte menus and en suite facilities.
Private medical insurance provides comfort, security and privacy to any medical experience that could potentially be an upsetting and troublesome time.
Factors that can affect the cost of private medical insurance
The cost of private health care depends on two factors — your personal circumstances and the level of policy coverage that you choose.
To better understand your circumstances, your insurance will ask you questions about:
- — The older you are, the more likely you are to claim on your health insurance. Private health insurance for those over 65’s can sometimes be more expensive in comparison to a 35-year-old. Some insurers may also not provide cover for someone above the age of 65, but they do provide custom senior private health plans that you can tailor to your needs instead.
- — Private health insurance doesn’t typically cover pre-existing conditions. But depending on the kind of cover you have, previous conditions may or may not affect your price.
- If a family member has suffered from a serious condition.
- — Do you smoke or have any underlying health conditions? However, if you’ve quit smoking but use a vaporiser, your premiums can still be higher than somebody who doesn’t smoke at all. This is because insurance companies usually ask about nicotine consumption rather than smoking cigarettes specifically. On the flip side, some companies might give you a slightly lower price if you take part in healthy activities such as being a member of a gym.
- — Insurers base their prices on the experiences of the people in your area and the cost of treatment there.
- — Your insurer will ask you questions regarding excess. The benefit of having an excess with your policy is that it allows you to take control over your monthly premiums. For example, if you have a treatment that costs £4,000 and you have an agreed excess of £500, you’ll pay £500 for the treatment while your insurer will pay the remaining £3,500.
Read more about your private health care coverage options with our guide to the best health insurance.
How to reduce the cost of private health insurance
While health insurance can be useful, it can also be expensive. With so many people purchasing private health care, many are looking for ways to cut down the costs of their cover. The reality is that cutting the cost may require some form of compromise.
There are several ways to bring the cost of your private health care down without having to make serious sacrifices. These include:
- — Customers have a choice of hospital lists that outlines the hospitals that are available for you to access treatment. However, many insurers are offering a guided access option which means the insurer picks where the customer is treated which can bring down the cost of the insurance.
- — An excess is an amount that you’ll have to contribute toward a claim, so it’s worth checking how much the excess is on your current plan. Excess amounts can range from £0 to £1,000, so you can bring the costs down simply by increasing the excess amount you’d have to pay.
- — If you choose to pay your premiums annually instead of monthly, you could save around 5% a year.
- — Much like car insurance, some insurers offer a no-claims discount for each year you don’t claim on your health insurance. If you haven’t had to claim on your insurance for a certain length of time, then you could get a discount.
- — Quitting smoking or joining a gym class are great ways to reduce the price of your health insurance.
Although there are a few ways to lower the cost of your health insurance, it’s important to remember that choosing a cheaper plan might not provide all the cover you need.
Can hospitals affect the cost of private health insurance?
The amount a hospital in the UK charges for treatment can vary. Use of equipment, facilities and accommodation can all be charged at different rates, which are then reflected in your policy. It’s also typical for hospitals in larger UK cities like London, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield, to be more expensive than rural hospitals.
To keep the situation fair for both the patient, the insurance and the hospital, the insurer negotiates with hospitals to ensure that prices don’t rise out of control. They will then rank each hospital and place them into different groups. These range from the most affordable, an average price, and then the most expensive.
As the patient, you’ll then choose which hospital you want to be treated at and pay accordingly. This ensures that people living near cheaper hospitals are paying less for their health cover. On the flip side, if you live near a large city, you might find your closest hospital is in your insurer's most expensive category.
Which types of private medical insurance are most expensive?
Medical underwriting is a term used by health insurers to describe the way that your medical and health information is used. This is then used to evaluate your application for private medical insurance and identifies and excludes any pre-existing medical conditions.
Here are two of the most common underwriting options for private health insurance policies.
Moratorium underwriting is the most common type of medical underwriting for private health insurance. It’ll usually exclude most pre-existing conditions that you’ve suffered from over a set period, this usually within the past five years.
You usually won’t need to submit any medical information and history. However, if you do make a claim, your insurer is likely to ask about your medical history and may possibly get in contact with your GP. This is to understand whether your claim is related to a new or pre-existing condition or symptom.
Excesses are typically charged either per year (i.e. you pay the first say £250 of claims in any one year and then no more, regardless of the number or value of claims) or per claim (i.e. you pay the first say £250 of each claim that is made). Make sure you know which you have as the per claim excess will often work out more expensive.
Advantages of moratorium underwriting
- — Moratorium underwriting is typically the cheapest health insurance option as it offers the lowest premiums. This is usually because they have less information about you kept on record.
- — Most insurers allow you to apply for this type of cover online. As you won’t have to fill out an application form about your medical history, applying is easy and hassle-free.
- — If you have little to no history of serious medical conditions or symptoms, then moratorium underwriting can be worth considering. You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing you’re saving money, as well as knowing you’ll be covered for any new conditions or symptoms that may arise.
Full medical underwriting
Buying full medical underwritten health insurance means that you’ll disclose your full medical history to your insurer. Your insurer will then go through your circumstances in detail and arrive at a personalised price and their cover terms.
Depending on the questions that are on your medical form, your insurer may also get in contact with your GP for further evidence on your medical history and to back up the underwriting.
Typically, full medical underwriting is usually a more expensive form of cover due to its extensive knowledge of your medical history.
Advantages of full medical underwriting
- — Because you disclose all of your medical history from the get-go, you know exactly what you will and won’t be covered for.
- — You’ll be able to get cover for any conditions that have occurred during the last five years (subject to your insurance).
Does changing your underwriting affect the cost of private health insurance?
When you take out health insurance, it’s important to make sure that you’ve got the right amount of cover to suit your needs.
Whether you decide to choose full medical or moratorium underwriting, the cost of changing your underwriting will vary from person to person.
The implication on cost can be quite small for a young person with no pre-existing medical conditions in comparison to an older person who has suffered from several health conditions.
You can read more about the different underwriting methods with our guide to health insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
How much do individual private health care treatments cost?
As the cost of private health care varies depending on treatment, we’ve listed some of the average prices for different procedures and surgeries that you can get across the UK.