Optical, dental and physio cover

Optical, dental & physio cover

Plus other treatments – the top healthcare cash plans

You can get cheap dental, optical or physio treatment with a healthcare cash plan, possibly saving £100s, and some can pay out more than you pay in. We explain how they work and how to find the best schemes.

Who's this guide for? Anyone looking for a healthcare cash plan, where you just want to claim back optical, dental or physio costs. 
Alternatively, if you are looking for private medical treatment in comfort and at a time and place that suits them, see our Private medical insurance guide.

What are healthcare cash plans?

Healthcare cash plans are insurance policies that instead of covering you for unforeseen events like most other types of insurance, help you pay for the cost of routine healthcare such as going to the dentist, opticians or the physio.

They're totally different from private medical insurance and can be a cheap way of paying for everyday healthcare costs.

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

  • 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 over six times what you spend on the insurance cost each year.

  • If you chose a plan with £200 dental cover, for example, you can then claim up to £200 back a year on dental treatments – so a check-up costing £22, two fillings at £59 each, and a £22 visit to the hygienist would all be covered, leaving £38 of your dental allowance left to use that year.

Your eight healthcare cash plan need-to-knows

Many people don’t understand how they work so here are eight need-to-knows to help you decide if it is for you and where to find the best cover at an affordable rate.

  1. It's all about the maths. Work out how much you'll pay in and what you'll get back

    It's important to make sure you're getting the maximum cash payout from your plan. For example, let's take a plan that costs £240/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 paid 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 you'd only get £50 from the plan and be £190 out of pocket factoring in the plan cost

    Therefore, 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.

  2. You may already be covered by your employer, so check first

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

    If your employer does pay, you'll pay the tax on it as it's a perk known as a 'benefit in kind'. So if it costs £20 a month, and you're on a 20% tax rate, that's £4 a month, deducted from your wages, you'll have to pay for. Still a much cheaper option than paying the full amount yourself.

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

    There are lots of different plans available so it's important to pick one that's right for you. If you have perfect vision, you're not going to need a huge allowance for optical cover and similarly if your teeth are pearly white you probably won't need a policy with a big dental allowance.

  4. 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.

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

    If you're young and healthy (you've got 20:20 vision and not a single filling), 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.

  6. You could get free cover for your kids and partner but check limits

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

    The level of benefits for children will differ from policy to policy – it may be that each child gets their own allowance, there might be a shared allowance between children or they might all share the adult allowance.

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

    • Some policies won't protect children for certain things, so make sure you know what your family's needs are and what's covered. And remember, as most children's treatments are free on the NHS, the amount of cash you can reclaim is limited.

    • It depends on the insurer and the plan you've chosen. Most policies let you add up to five children and you'll either get a separate allowance for each child to use which is usually lower than the adult allowance, children will share the overall family allowance, or they'll be given an amount of cash to share between children.

  7. 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.

    For example, if you choose a level one plan with Health Shield for £11.95 a month you'd get £65 a year towards 'health and wellbeing', which includes an aromatherapy massage or even allergy testing. You'd also get £125 towards 'physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, acupuncture and homoeopathy'.

  8. Make a note of the policy end date so you don't miss out claiming

    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.

    If it ends in June, for example, check your existing cash allowance in April and if you've still got money to claim, 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 a year with how much you'll pay out a year and given it a score. For example, a policy that pays out £300 and costs £100 a year would score a three.

  • Healthcare cash plans aren't on the traditional comparison sites that offer car insurance or home insurance, so you'll have to go direct to the insurers to buy them.

    Don't feel daunted by this. Have a look at our best buys below for finding the right cover, at an affordable rate.

The cheapest policies: from £5/mth for adults

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.

Company Plan name Cost Annual payout No-claim period
Orchard Healthcare Green £8.06/mth £690 (1) 13 weeks
Orchard Healthcare Red £4.63/mth £360 (1) 13 weeks

Core plan (age 18-34) £7.53/mth £390 (2) 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 April 2018. (1) It pays out 100% optical and 50% dental/physio. of each claim. (2) It pays out 100% dental, 75% optical and 50% physio. of each claim.

The best value 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.

Best value policies for individuals – from £15/mth

Company Plan name Cost Annual payout No-claim period
BHSF Bonus plan (age 18-34) £14.78/mth £760 (1) 13 weeks
BHSF Bonus plan (age 35-44) £16.97/mth £760 (1) 13 weeks
Sovereign Healthcare Level 3 £16.38/mth £645 (2) 0 weeks
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 April 2018. (1) It pays out 100% optical and 50% dental/physio. of each claim. (2) It pays out 50% for dental, optical and physio. of each claim.

Best value family policies from £27/mth

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.

Company Plan name Cost Annual payout (entire family) No-claim period
Sovereign Healthcare Level 3 £32.76/mth £2,580 (1) 0 weeks
BHSF Bonus plan (age 18-34) £27.18/mth £1,520 (2) 13 weeks
BHSF Bonus plan (age 35-44) £31.22/mth £1,520 (2) 13 weeks
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 April 2018. (1) It pays out 50% for dental, optical and physio. of each claim. (2) It pays out 100% optical and 50% dental/physio. of each claim.

Top policies for over-65s from £15/mth

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.

Company Plan name Cost Annual payout No-claim period
WHA Direct PL19 (max age 69) £19/mth £800 (1) 3 months
WHA Direct PL15 (max age 69) £15/mth £630 (1)

3 months
Sovereign Healthcare Level 3 (max age 75) £16.38/mth £645 (2) 0 weeks
Another option is BHSF (if aged 75+) Bonus plan (up to age 99) £27.27/mth £760 (3) 13 weeks
Note: Claim amount: at least £125 towards each of dental, £125 for optical and £200 for physio treatment. Correct as of April 2018. (1) Max pay out over a two-year period. (2) It pays out 50% for dental, optical and physio. of each claim. (3) It pays out 100% optical and 50% dental/physio. of each claim.

Healthcare cashplans FAQ

  • Healthcare cash plans cover a number of different treatments. Here are some of the most common, but check your policy for the full rundown.

    • Dentist: Both check-ups and dental treatments, including seeing the hygienist.

    • Optician: Eye tests and prescription glasses or contact lenses. Some providers exclude disposable contact lenses (see Cheap contact lenses).

    • Chiropody: Foot treatment and advice.

    • Physiotherapy: Sometimes coupled with osteopathy.

    • Maternity payments: Paid when a child is born.

    • Complementary health: Osteopathy, chiropractic, homeopathy and acupuncture by a registered practitioner.

    • Hospital inpatient: Cash paid for each night spent in hospital.

    • Hospital parental stay: Cash paid when a parent spends the night in hospital with an ill child.

    • Special consultation: Repayment of fees paid towards a consultant physician or surgeon.

    • Personal accident, death and funeral benefits: Cash paid out in the event of accident or death.

    • NHS prescriptions: Cash back on the cost of a limited number of prescriptions (not commonly included).

    • Health screening: Schemes will pay for an annual health screening.

    • Others: Surgical or hearing aids, mental health payouts, day surgery, recuperation grants, occupational therapy, diet advice, paternity grants, adoption grants, infertility grants. Many providers also have help-lines for a range of subjects.

  • Private medical insurance (PMI) is totally different but you can have one of these and a healthcare cash plan, so don't feel you have to choose one or the other.

    With PMI, it covers the cost of private medical treatment for acute conditions which are likely to respond quickly to treatment – musculoskeletal problems (for example, back pain) and digestive system conditions are the most claimed-for issues.

    When it comes to healthcare cash plans, it covers regular, everyday treatments including a visit to the dentist or optician, as well as treatments such as physiotherapy and sometimes even massages.

    Here you pay a monthly fee to an insurer and if you need to pay for NHS or private treatment, you pay upfront, and can claim some or all of the cash back depending on your policy, up to an annual maximum limit.

    Whether one could work for you comes down to a simple equation: are you likely to get more cash back than you pay for your plan each year? If so, they can be a no-brainer.

    For more info, read our Private medical insurance guide.

  • Whatever the policy, most claims are processed very quickly and should take two to three days. Once you've sent the receipts to the provider and it's verified your claim, you can get it paid as a cheque or directly into your bank account usually within a few days.

  • Most healthcare cash plans don't require a medical. This is a boon, however if you have a pre-existing condition it should be declared. Some policies will exclude all future claims on any past conditions, yet most only exclude conditions suffered in the previous two years.

    If you're aged over 65 you may need to provide one so always check the policy wording before you sign up.

  • If you have a pre-existing condition it'll be harder to find cover as most standard individual cash plans don't cover them. However, depending on the condition this doesn't mean you can't get cover – a shoulder injury, for example, wouldn't stop someone claiming for physiotherapy treatment for a knee injury.

    You may have more luck via a company scheme as they are more likely to include pre-existing conditions so always double check the small print before you buy.

  • Yes. Usually you should only consult properly qualified (and registered) practitioners with the governing body/council for that profession.

    If you are not sure, a quick phone call to the insurer will clarify is that qualification is acceptable or provide you the details of a consultation local to you.

  • Many healthcare cash plan schemes have a qualifying period from one to six months before you can start to claim anything, which stops people joining and immediately getting treatment, claiming the money back and then cancelling the policy.

    Maternity claims usually need at least 10 months, for obvious reasons.

  • All healthcare cash plans are covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, meaning 90% of what you put into a scheme is protected. But the FSCS will try to find another insurer to cover you if your current provider goes bust.

How to complain about your insurance provider

The insurance industry doesn't have the best customer-service reputation and while a provider may be good for some, it can be hell for others. Common problems include claims either not being paid out on time or at all, unfair charges, or exclusions being hidden in small print. It's always worth trying to call your provider first, but, if not, then…

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