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Optical, Dental & Physio Cover

Plus other treatments - the top healthcare cash plans

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Rebecca and Tony | Edited by Johanna

Updated April 2016

Worried about paying for dental, optical or physio treatment? You can get cheap cover with a healthcare cash plan, possibly saving £100s, and some even pay out more than you pay in.

In this guide we explain how healthcare cash plans - which replay what you've shelled out for treatment - work, how to find the best schemes and what to watch out for before you buy.

Healthcare cash plans explained: The 9 need-to-knows

Healthcare cash plans are insurance policies that instead of covering you for unforseen, unpredictable events like most other types of insurance, help you pay for the cost of routine healthcare.

Appointments such as going for a dental check-up, getting your glasses from the optician, physiotherapy and sometimes even massages can be included.

They're totally different to private medical insurance and can be a cheap way of paying for everyday healthcare costs. Though many people don’t understand how they work. Here are nine need-to-knows to help you decide if they're worth it and where to find the best cover at an affordable rate.

Healthcare cash plans cover the cost of dental, optical, physio treatment & more

Even with the NHS it’s difficult not to spend money on healthcare; there are dental treatments, optical check-ups, alternative therapies and more. Yet, used correctly healthcare cash plans allow you to recover these costs and can pay you back up to six times what you spend on them each year.

You pay a monthly premium, depending on how much cover you want, and when you receive treatment, you pay upfront and then send the receipt to the insurer and it reimburses you.

If you chose a plan with £200 dental cover, for example, you can then claim up to £200 back per year on dental treatments – so a check-up costing £20, a £130 filling, and a £50 visit to the hygienist would all be covered.

There's usually no medical so they're great for those who aren't in tip top condition and can cover anyone up to the age of 99. Plus, you'll pay a flat-rate up to the age of 65 so whether you're 25 or 45 you'll pay the same for the same level of cover.

What do healthcare cash plans typically cover?

When can you make a claim?

When does a cash plan pay out?

Are pre-existing conditions covered?

Does the cost vary with age?

Is my money protected?

How do I buy a policy?

Will I need a medical?

What's the difference between cash plans and private medical insurance?

Different plans cover different things, so pick the right one for your needs

There are lots of plans available so don't assume they’re all the same. When choosing a cash plan it's important to pick one that's right for you – otherwise it's just a waste of money.

If you have perfect vision, you're not going to need a huge allowance for optical cover and similarly if your teeth are still pearly white then you won't need a policy with a big allowance for dental.

You may already be covered by your employer, so it’s worth checking

Cash plans are a popular staff perk so before you buy one check whether your employer already provides the cover for free, or for a small amount each month.

If your employer does pay for your cash plan, they're not entirely free as although you won't pay for the plan, you'll pay the tax on it. So, if it costs £20 per month, and you're on a tax rate of 20%, that's £4 per month which you'll have to pay for.

This is because the cash plan is a perk paid by your employer and known as a 'benefit in kind'. However, paying the tax – and not paying the full amount for the cash plan yourself – is clearly a much cheaper option.

It's all about how much you'll pay in and what you'll get back

As mentioned above, you need to pick a healthcare cash plan that meets your needs but it's also important to make sure you're getting the maximum cash payout from your plan.

For example, let's take a plan that costs £240 per year that includes £300 for optical costs and £300 for dental:

  • If you've maxed out both you'd be paid £600. Take away what you've put in and you're £360 up at the end of the year.
  • However, if you don't use the optical part and only £50 of dental – say two check-ups per year – you'd only get £50 from the plan and compared to the amount you've paid in (£240) you're now £190 out of pocket.

Therefore before you pick a policy, always check what you're likely to use compared to how much you'll be paying each month. Our best buys below have full details.

Only buy one if you’ll claim each time - otherwise they're a waste of money

Just because people can claim for the cost of healthcare through a cash plan, doesn't mean they do. Many people forget to send in their claim forms, so there's no payout at all.

Cash plan providers rely on apathetic customers with direct debits dripping from their bank accounts to keep the coffers healthy. So this is OUR CLARION CALL...

Cash plans are only great value if you'll make claims. If you won't, it's like throwing money down the drain.

Self-insuring means you'll still have the cash if you don't claim

If you're young and healthy (say you've got 20:20 vision and not a single filling in your mouth), a healthcare cash plan might not be for you. Self-insuring may be a better option. Instead of paying, say, £300 a year for a cash plan, 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, simply dip into your own insurance fund. If you don't touch it you'll get to keep your 'premiums' with the interest on top.

You could get free cover for your kids and partner but always check the limits

You can cover an individual or two adults on a policy and most policies then let you add children at no extra cost.

If you’ve added children to your policy, it effectively makes it a family plan. The children on the policy then either get their own allowance per child, have a shared allowance between children or share the adult allowance.

For example, each child may get £100 towards dental costs per year, all children on the policy may have a shared allowance of £300 for dental – or each parent has a limit of £500 per year for dental which the children can also use.

In addition, some policies won't protect children for certain things. Make sure you know what your family's needs are, then make sure the policy you're interested in matches up. And remember – as most children's treatments are free on the NHS the amount of cash you can reclaim is limited.

How many children can be added to a plan?

You could even claim for tooth whitening, pedicures or massages

Along with optical, dental and physio there may be complementary treatments included in your cash plan. This could be anything from an aromatherapy massage for stress, cosmetic tooth whitening or a medical pedicure. If yours includes these, and it's something you usually pay out for, make sure you're using the cash plan instead.

For example, if you choose a level one plan with Health Shield for £10.60 per month you'd get £65 per year towards what's called 'health and well being' which includes an aromatherapy massage.

On top of this you'd also get £125 towards 'physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture and homoeopathy'.

Make a note of the policy end date so you don't miss out on cashback

When you sign up to a cash plan you'll be given an allowance of money per policy year to claim back to pay for your routine healthcare costs. This is a 'use it or lose it' policy so at the end you won't be able to access it anymore.

Therefore it's important to take note of when the policy comes to an end so you can make sure you've used up all the cash available. If it ends in June, for example, check your existing cash allowance in April and if you've still got money to claim on dental, for example, book an appointment and claim back the cash.

Best buys: The top cash plan policies

Cash plans have different prices, cover and limits, so they're a nightmare to compare. To help we've based our best buys on a variety of scenarios.

We've analysed policies and worked out our best by those which pay back the most compared to how much they cost. To pick the top we've divided the total amount you can claim per year with how much you'll pay out per year and given it a score. For example, a policy that pays out £300 and costs £100 a year would score a 3.

Best buys: Individual cover

As each provider has a range of tariffs, for a single adult its nearest tariff to £20 a month was used and unless stated the upper age limit is 65.

Our cheapest adult policies

These basic policies for individuals focus on cheap plans so if you forget to claim the loss is small, but it does mean the potential payback is reduced. If it works, but you want more cover, you can always increase the plan level.

Top cheapest policies
Company Plan name Cost Annual payout No-claim period
WHA Personal 145 £6.30/mth (1) £260 3 months
WPA Level One £8.40/mth (1) £270 1 month
BHSF Value Plan (age 17-34) £10/mth (2) £310 13 weeks

Note: Claim amount: at least £50 towards each of dental, optical and physio treatment. The price level is up to £10 a month per adult. Correct as of September 2015. (1) It pays out between 75% and 100% of each claim, you could have to pay the extra 25%. (2) It pays out 50% of each physio claim, and between 75% and 100% for dental and optical.

Our best value adult policies

These policies are a step up from our basic top picks. As you're getting a better level of cover, the price is more and as always, the aim is to find a policy with a range of cover and a good payout rate. The policies listed as best value meet a minimum criteria of; £125 for dental, £125 for optical and £200 for physio. If you go for a cheaper policy, like those above, you won't be able to get the same level of cover.

Top value policies for an individual
Company Plan name Cost Annual payout No-claim period
WHA Personal 325 £14.10/mth (1) £560 3 months
WHA Personal 235 £10.20/mth (1) £400 3 months
WPA Level Three £17.77/mth (1) £650 1 month
Note: Claim amount: at least £125 towards each of dental, £125 for optical and £200 for physio treatment. The price level is up to £20 a month per adult. Correct as of September 2015. (1) It pays out 75% of each claim, you could have to pay the extra 25%.

Best buys: Our best value family policy

As each provider has a range of tariffs, for a family (two adults and two kids) a policy of up to £40 was used and unless stated the upper age limit is 65. With all policies, always remember to check the cover levels suit your needs before buying.

As you're covering two adults and two children the price for these plans is higher along with the amount you could be paid back. The aim is still to find a policy with a range of cover and a good payout rate.

Top value family policies
Company Plan name Cost Annual payout (entire family) No-claim period
WPA Level 3 (1) £35.54/mth £2,150 1 month
HSF Scheme 5 £36.50/mth £2,060 3 months
HSF Scheme 4 £29.50/mth £1,632 3 months
Note: Claim amount: at least £125 towards each of dental, £125 for optical and £200 for physio treatment. The price level was up to £40 a month per plan. Correct as of September 2015. (1) It pays out 75% of each claim, you could have to pay the extra 25%.

Best buys: Our cheapest policy for over 65s

Most of the top-paying healthcare cash plans have a maximum joining age of 64, but if you're older there are still plenty of options as you can see from the best buys below.

Top policies for over 65s
Company Plan name Cost Annual payout No-claim period
HSF Scheme 5 (up to age 70) £36.50 £1,130 0 months
Aviva Health Cash Plan (up to age 99)


£815 1 month
HSF Scheme 4 (up to age 70) £29.50 £890 0 months
Note: Claim amount: at least £125 towards each of dental, £125 for optical and £200 for physio treatment. Correct as of September 2015

What to do if something goes wrong

If your cash plan provider 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.