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Cheap Health Insurance

How to slash the cost of private health insurance

Health insurance should be seen as a luxury, not a necessity, as the NHS provides comprehensive medical treatment to anyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay.

However, if you do decide to get cover, there are ways to keep the cost down and still get a good policy. This guide explains how health insurance works, how to buy it and what to watch out for.

What is health insurance and what's included?

Health insurance, also known as private medical insurance, covers the cost of private medical treatment for ‘acute’ medical conditions – diseases, illnesses or injuries likely to respond quickly to treatment.

There are lots of different plans to choose from and while basic policies cover essential treatments while more comprehensive policies may include specialist therapies and complementary medicines such as acupuncture or chiropody. To sum up:

You pay a monthly sum to the insurer and it pays out for your essential treatments such as hospital care and surgery.

It's also possible with some, for example, you can choose the hospital you go to while with others certain treatments will be included, so it's important to make sure that if you're buying a policy it's the right one for you.

What is typically included under a health insurance policy?

What is typically excluded from health insurance?

Can I just use the NHS?

What restrictions will I face if I buy health insurance?

What is a chronic condition?

What's a moratorium plan and why is it cheaper?

Can I switch and save?

Will a policy include my children and partner as well?

How do I pay?

Can I use a healthcare cash plan rather than buying health insurance?

I'm already covered under a workplace scheme. Do I need to buy cover?

What's the difference between health insurance and critical illness?

Health insurance: Your 9 need-to-knows

Health insurance covers the cost of private medical treatment and people who buy it typically do so because they receive faster consultations and private treatment, which can be in a private or NHS hospital.

While it can cover the cost of private day patient surgery, tests and hospital accommodation, you wouldn't be able to use it if you were taken to accident and emergency.

Here are nine need-to-knows to help you decide if it's right for you and where to find the best cover at an affordable rate.

You may not need health insurance as many things are covered by the free NHS

The UK is one of a handful of countries in the world which providers people with free NHS treatment at the point of service covering so paying for private healthcare is a luxury not a necessity.

There are also a number of policy restrictions with health insurance, so even if you have cosmetic treatment, accident and emergency treatment, or an organ transplant, for example, you won't be covered, so make sure you NEED it before you buy.

Self-insuring could be a better option and you'll keep the cash if you don't claim

If you're young and healthy you might not need health insurance and instead of paying £300 a year to an insurer, pay £25 a month into a high-interest savings account or into an interest-paying current account.

Should you need any minor treatment or consultations not available on the NHS, or you want a faster service, simply dip into your own insurance fund. Stay fit and healthy and you get to keep your 'premiums' with the interest on top.

However, remember that treatment for some conditions, such as cancer, can cost hundreds of thousands for private healthcare so in some situations it could be worth paying for private health insurance, if your policy covers the illness.

Most insurers won't cover for a pre-existing condition but always check

Health insurance isn’t designed to cover you for every health issue that might occur. It covers treatment for acute conditions that start after your policy begins, such as cataract surgery – and you may still need treatment via the NHS in some cases.

Some insurers may provide cover for longer-term (chronic) conditions, but you’ll need to check the policy to see what you’re covered for.

The price of health insurance isn't fixed so you'll pay more as you get older

Health insurance premiums aren't set at the price you paid when you first took them out so the price will rise over time and usually on an annual basis.

Even though there's competition in the health insurance market, whatever policy you choose, your premiums are likely to rise each year above the rate of general inflation. As methods for diagnosing conditions become more advanced, the costs of these developments are often passed on to policyholders.

In addition, as you get older, you're more likely to need treatment and premiums increase to reflect this. For example, a 70-year-old is likely to pay three times more for cover than a 35-year-old.

On top of this remember that most health policies won't accept you if you have pre-existing conditions so to remain covered for a condition you have, it may be better to stick with your current insurer.

Paying a year upfront or monthly by direct debit may slash the cost

Many insurers will give you discounts if you pay in certain ways such as if you pay by monthly direct debit or an annual payment.

For example, at the moment AXA PPP will give you 5% off if you pay for the whole year upfront and Simplyhealth will give you 4% off. Aviva and Saga give you two months' and three months' free cover respectively if you pay by monthly direct debit.

Only go for a policy if it works for you, no matter how good the discount is – if the cover isn't right there's no point buying it.

If you can show your insurer you have a healthy lifestyle it may slash your premium

Some insurers will charge you less if you can prove you can stay in good health with regular exercise and healthy eating.

With Aviva’s Healthier Solutions, for example, you can save up to 15% if you renew and remain in shape. When you sign up you'll be asked to fill in a health questionnaire and from this given a score on your overall fitness. If you can improve on this, you'll be able to get the renewal discount.

Vitality Health (previously called PruHealth) has a similar plan and offers up to £100 cashback on premiums if you can show you're leading a healthy lifestyle. However, be aware that you might save more by switching providers).

Perks such as cheap gym cover and cinema tickets can be great but they're not the reason to buy

There are also other perks on offer such as discounted gym membership which can be a winner as not only could your monthly gym fees go down, by 50% with Vitality Health for example, you'll also have the benefit of the health insurance policy which you pay for.

It's not just gym discounts either, the Vitality Health scheme also offers free weekly cinema tickets to those signed up to its health insurance plan. However, as with all of these sweeteners, never choose a product based on the freebies and get the coverage you need for the price you can afford.

Paying an excess will lower the monthly cost – but only go for it if you can afford it

Not to be confused with living the high life during the festive period or a long afternoon at the local all-you-can-eat buffet, an excess – in the insurance sense – is the amount you pay towards any claims you make.

For example, if your excess is £100 and you get a bill of £300 – you'll pay the first £100 and the insurer will stump up the rest. The larger the excess the cheaper the premium. But be careful when picking one as you need to make sure you can afford to pay it.

Insurer WPA, for example, offers a ‘shared responsibility’ plan where customers pay 25% of any claim up to an agreed limit. It says these plans can cut premiums by up to 70%.

The insurer CS Healthcare runs a similar scheme and customers pay 15% of each claim per year, up to a maximum of £1,000 or £3,000 per person, per year, after which the insurer will pay 100% of each claim.

If you go for this option make sure you have enough money set aside in a high-interest savings or current account to pay for any claims you'll need to make.

With a pick n' mix policy you only pay for what you need

Not the multi-coloured sweets, we're talking about pick and mix in the insurance sense, where you can create your own policy to fit your needs and budget.

Many providers sell cheap, basic plans where you can add-on extras such as extra cancer care or outpatient treatment.

For example, the premier policy from WPA costs £22.60 per month and you can up to £500,000 emergency cover abroad for £1.23 per month.

You can also cut the cost by restricting when you use the policy. Several insurers will lower your premium costs if you choose what's called a 'six-week option'. This means if the waiting time with the NHS is six weeks or under, you'll be treated with the NHS. If it's more you'll be eligible for private healthcare via your health insurance policy.

If I only go to one hospital will it be cheaper?

What about a no-claims bonus?

How to slash the cost of health insurance

If you're thinking about buying health insurance, it's all about finding the best deal for you – cheapest doesn't necessarily mean best but that doesn't mean you can't cut the cost once you've decided what you want. (If you want to know how health insurance works and what to watch out for, read our tips above.)

As prices rise on an annual basis it's always worth checking every year if you can get a cheaper deal by switching.

Step 1: Use comparison sites to find a cheap price

Using a comparison is a good place to start your research as long as you haven't got any pre-existing medical conditions (if so, see a broker). With a comparison site you can get a number of quotes from a wide range of providers which will give you a good benchmark plus it could be cheaper than you'll be offered by a broker.*, Compare The Market and Gocompare all host a number of health insurers on their sites. If you know of any others we should be including please let us know.

Step 2: Contact a broker for more options and specialist advice

Once you've got a benchmark quote from one of the comparison sites, see if a broker can beat it.

Brokers are not only great if you want advice on what policy to pick, but they often have connections with various insurers and might be able to offer you a special deal.

Your best option will be to find a broker which is a member of the Association of Medical Insurers and Intermediaries (AMII) which is a trade association for independent medical insurance advisers. If you've had a positive experience with a broker please let us know.

Step 3: Deals missed by brokers and comparison sites

Some big insurers, such as Saga are not on comparison sites and may not be mentioned by brokers as they only offer their products directly. So benchmark your cheapest quote from a comparison site, and a specialist broker if you've spoken to one, against the premiums offered by the insurers not listed.

Step 4: Get the best deal for you

Once you've checked the comparison sites, brokers, and insurers missed you should have a shortlist of your best quotes. Whatever policy you choose, first make sure you know all the key features before you buy then check you're getting the best price.

What are the typical costs?

We got quotes from the big players in the market to see which comes out on top. To make it fair, all quotes have a zero excess (so you pay nothing towards a claim), unlimited outpatient care (this depends on what the doctor charges) and full cancer treatment coverage.

Health insurance policies aren't easy to compare, so we're never going to be able to provide a like-for-like comparison. Some areas of coverage are standard with some providers, optional with others; while some have discount offers for the first year or perks.

For a healthy, non-smoking 35-year-old
Provider £ per year









Exeter Family Friendly


Correct as of September 2015

For a healthy, non-smoking 70-year-old
Provider £ per year











Exeter Family Friendly


Correct as of September 2015

What to do if things go wrong with your insurer

If your health insurance company rejects your claim and you think it has done so wrongly, do not take it lying down. First complain to it directly then if you don't get a response within eight weeks, complain to the free Financial Ombudsman.

The ombudsman is an independent adjudicator that will make the final decision on a claim if you are locked in a dispute with your insurer. For more on how to make a complaint, read our Financial Rights guide.

Free tool if you’re having a problem

This tool helps you draft your complaint and manage it too. It’s totally free, and offered by a firm called Resolver which we like so much we work with to help people get complaints justice.

If the complaint isn't resolved, Resolver will automatically escalate it to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.