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Guide to private medical insurance

A doctor and a patientYour health is your most valuable asset, but NHS queues often mean you might not get medical treatment as quickly as you would like. With medical insurance you get the option of having private treatment promptly if you can’t wait to be seen on the NHS, and it might not cost as much as you think!

Why might you need medical insurance?

The NHS is available to everyone, but the care you receive and how long we wait for it can depend on your location in the UK.

Private medical insurance gives you more choice over your healthcare, with benefits including:

  • Access to over 400 private hospitals
  • Your choice of leading specialist
  • Arranging an appointment time of your choice
  • Recovery in a private en-suite room
  • Being able to benefit from ground breaking new drugs and treatments

Having a private medical insurance policy doesn’t mean that you are turnign your back on the National Health Service. In fact, you can customise your plan to only cover things you don’t want to receive on the NHS.

Isn’t private medical insurance really expensive?

Medical insurance was traditionally thought of as a luxury product, but you may be surprised at how affordable some policies have become. Insurers have adapted to the changing market and are now offering policies to suit as many budgets as possible.

  • A basic policy should cover you for inpatient treatment (staying overnight in a private hospital) but may not cover outpatient treatment (which does not require an overnight stay).
  • A mid-range policy will cover full inpatient and day patient treatment (requiring a period of medical supervised recovery but not an overnight stay), as well as selected outpatient treatments.
  • Comprehensive policies cover all treatments, including psychiatric, physiotherapy, dental, home nursing and hospital expenses.

Many insurance companies also allow you to build your own cover so you only pay for what you need.

Can you get cover for pre-existing conditions?

Any health problem you have suffered symptoms of or sought medical advice on before taking out a policy will be considered pre-existing by an insurer, and will not be covered straight away. However, you may be able to gain cover for these conditions in the future by choosing a "moratorium policy".

Moratorium policies initially exclude any conditions you have suffered in the past 5 years. But if you go two continuous years’ advice, symptom and treatment free, you can regain cover for these conditions. Be aware that conditions with a complicated medical history may not be eligible.

Conditions requiring on-going treatment may never be covered as insurers will not cover chronic conditions.

What about emergency treatment?

Private hospitals do not have accident and emergency departments, so if you need emergency treatment you will need to visit A&E at your local NHS hospital. However, once you are stabilised your medical insurance will cover the cost of your continued private care.

Top tip…

When comparing private medical insurance quotes, keep your eye out for extras. Most insurers will reward their customers with discounted gym membership and health screenings to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle. Some insurers even offer two-for-one cinema tickets, Eurostar discounts and money off popular UK attractions. Whilst you shouldn’t base your decision on these little extras, they could make it easier to decide between two policies.

Adam Jolley

Adam Jolley

Adam Jolley is a content producer at He joined us in May 2012 from the world of financial services PR.

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