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Health insurance

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  • Get on-hand support from health insurance broker of the year, Howden Life & Health

What is health insurance?

Health insurance, also known as private medical insurance, is a policy that covers the cost of private healthcare. Depending on your level of cover, you can use it to pay for things like:

  • Private hospital stays
  • Diagnostic procedures
  • Surgery
  • Physiotherapy

You can get health insurance for yourself, for you and a partner, for your child, or even for your whole family.

Whether you need private medical insurance depends on what you want from your healthcare. Many treatments are available free of charge on the NHS, but you often need to wait to access them.

Due to a lower demand for private healthcare facilities, health insurance could help you to get a quicker diagnosis. You can also avoid NHS waiting lists for the treatment you need. You may even be able to access therapies that the NHS can’t fund.

You need to be over 18 years old to take out a health insurance policy. Children under the age of 18 can still be covered via family health insurance cover, provided that the main policyholder is above the minimum age.

It's important to note, the older you are when you take out a health insurance policy, the higher your insurance costs are likely to be. However, most health insurance companies do provide cover up to any age.

How can I get cheaper health insurance?

If you’re new to health insurance, there are a few ways to cut the cost of your policy:

  • Add an excess - the higher the excess you can afford, the cheaper your policy tends to be. An excess is the amount you agree to pay before your insurance covers the remaining cost. This then reduces the amount the insurer has to pay. 
  • If you can, pay annually instead of monthly - paying monthly means you pay interest, which costs you more in total over the year.
  • Compare prices and policies from different providers - shop around to get the best deal and the right policy for you.
  • Look out for offers among your quotes - as providers may have sales on throughout the year.
  • Look at the perks or discounts - as some policies come with extras like discount gym memberships.
  • Get the right level of cover - as you may not need the most comprehensive policy.
  • Consider family health insurance - to insure all your loved ones under one, cheaper policy.

Price is an important factor, but the cheapest policy might not necessarily provide the cover you need.

Make sure you know what is and isn't covered by your private healthcare insurance to ensure you get good value for money.

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We compare quotes from up to 13 trusted health insurance companies

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What are the benefits of private healthcare?

By going private, depending on your cover level, you'll usually be able to:

  • Avoid NHS waiting lists. Private medical insurance means you may not have to wait as long, compared to the NHS for treatment.
  • Access a wider range of treatments, therapies and medicines that aren't available on the NHS.
  • Potentially get a faster diagnosis through quicker access to consultants and diagnostics. This can put your mind at rest.
  • Access top specialists and consultants with private health insurance, which can also make it easier to choose your own doctor.
  • Choose when and where you get treatment. You can arrange treatment at a time that's convenient to you and, depending on your plan, choose where you get it.
  • Stay in a private, en-suite room in a private hospital rather than a large ward and shared facilities.

How does health insurance work?

Health insurance works in the same way as any other insurance policy - you pay monthly or annually. Should you need to make a claim, your insurer may cover the cost of treatment that you need if your claim is successful.

There are two main elements to medical insurance:

  • Treatment
  • Diagnosis

Treatment cover is included with most policies. This could cover you for things like operations that you need to go into hospital for, or other treatment you receive while you’re there. 

The diagnosis side of health insurance includes things like consultations with specialists, blood tests, MRIs and CTs that help to find out what’s wrong.  

If you have treatment-only cover, you’ll need to visit an NHS GP first for a diagnosis. Once you’re diagnosed, you will need to make a claim for treatment with your insurer. If your claim is successful and treatment is available, you can then be treated at a private facility.

If you have full or partial diagnosis cover, you will need to make a claim with your insurer. If your claim is successful, your insurer can help you to obtain a diagnosis and be treated privately if treatment is available.

Depending on your level of cover, your health insurance policy may cover just one aspect, or it may cover both.

What does private health insurance cover?

Health insurance covers the cost of any private healthcare you get. But exactly what's covered depends on your policy. This is why it's important to compare health insurance plans and understand what's covered.

We compare 3 tiers of health insurance to find the best deal for you:

Basic, or treatment only

Could cover the cost of any treatment you need, including operations, while you’re in hospital, as well as the cost of your stay. Any testing you need isn't covered.

You can still have tests done on the NHS. But private diagnosis and outpatient care, including things like consultations with specialists, isn't covered.

Medium, or treatment and limited diagnosis

Could cover treatment, as well as some diagnostic testing. This can include blood tests at private hospitals, consultations with specialists and things like MRIs.

These are usually quicker than they would be on the NHS. You’re normally given a set amount of cover for these tests, for example, £1000 worth over the course of a year.

Comprehensive or treatment and full diagnosis

Could cover all your treatment, including any diagnostic testing you undergo at private facilities. Additional support like mental health care, physiotherapy and dental work may also be covered.

What else can private health insurance cover?

Some private medical insurance policies give you access to extra features on top of your treatment or diagnosis cover.

Depending on your health insurance plan, this can include:

  • Virtual GP appointments that give you 24/7 access to a GP from the comfort of your own home
  • Complementary therapies including physiotherapy, osteopathy or chiropractic care
  • Mental health support led by a GP, or via a 24/7 mental health helpline that you can access as and when you need it
  • Optical cover that could either pay for your care in full, or could reimburse you up to a set limit
  • Dental care, which might be included in more advanced policies but is unlikely to be covered by basic ones
  • NHS cashback that lets you claim back cash if you choose to undergo treatment in an NHS setting

These extra features could be included free of charge in the most comprehensive health insurance plans. But some policies may ask you to pay extra for them. Check your health insurance policy details to see what’s included in your cover.

What isn’t covered? 

Exclusions vary between policies, and you should check before you buy, but you can typically expect the following to be excluded:

  • Emergency treatment
  • Organ transplants
  • Prescription drugs and dressings you get as an outpatient
  • Illnesses developed due to drug abuse
  • Kidney dialysis
  • Experimental, unproven treatments or drugs
  • Cosmetic treatments
  • Routine pregnancy procedures
  • Mobility aids such as wheelchairs
  • Deliberately self-inflicted injuries
  • Infertility

Most of these are covered by the NHS. If you want to be treated for exclusions privately, you would have to pay for them as an extra cost which is seperate to your insurance policy.

I already have health insurance, can I switch insurers?

Yes. If you’ve held a health insurance policy for 12 months or more, switching cover is an option for you. If you’d like to move to a different insurer, you have 2 options:

  • Switch policies
  • Start a new policy

Switch policies. You can transfer your current policy to a new insurer without a break in cover. But there could be a fee to leave your current provider, depending on their terms and conditions, so always check with them first.

Depending on the condition, your new insurer may continue to cover previous conditions as part of your new policy. If you want to explore transferring any conditions, you need to answer any applicable questions during the switch process.

To switch insurers you need to provide some extra information, such as your medical history. This determines if the policy is right for you and if the insurer will accept the cover, including any existing conditions and exclusions.

The benefits of switching are:

  • Potentially cheaper insurance costs
  • Access new products in the market
  • Tailored cover for your current needs
  • No break in cover - there may be a gap in cover if you start a new policy.

Start a new policy, also known as a moratorium policy. If you start a new policy, any medical conditions you’ve had in the past 5 years are excluded until you’ve spent 2 years free of symptoms, treatment, medication or advice for that condition.

How do I switch my policy to a new insurer?

There are two ways to switch cover:

1. Get a quote through Confused.com and select ‘switch policy’. You can then apply online by answering the insurer-specific application questions. The answers on the application may change the price of your insurance and Howden Life and Health might need to call you to discuss the application in more detail.

2. Call Howden Life & Health on 03330 151 845 and speak to their dedicated team of health advisers. They’ll take your details over the phone and offer you a policy that meets your needs and your budget.

What do I need to get a quote?

All you need to do is fill in the form. There we’ll ask you for information that could affect your cover price, including:

  • Your age
  • Whether or not you smoke
  • Where you live
  • Your general wellbeing
  • Any pre-existing conditions you have

These help determine whether you’ll be offered a quote, and how much you’re likely to pay for your health insurance.

You shouldn’t need to have a medical to get health insurance. You’ll normally just have to fill out a medical history form, and your provider will do the rest.

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Can you get health insurance for pre-existing conditions?

Most private health insurance policies don't cover pre-existing conditions. These are normally health issues you’ve been treated for in the last 5 years. But some insurers may put a time limit of 4 years or less.

Asthma and diabetes are common examples of pre-existing conditions. Unless you’ve gone several years without being treated for them, they usually aren't covered.

Chronic conditions - those that are likely to cause you issues for a long time - are similar. These include things like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Arthritis
  • Diabetes

If you’ve recently had treatment for them, most insurers won’t cover you any further.

When getting a quote, have your medical history and details on any pre-existing conditions ready to speed up the process.

What are the different types of health insurance?

What our health insurance expert says

''The high demand and increasing waiting lists on the NHS can make it tricky to get the treatment you need when you need it. 

Private healthcare lets you take control of your treatment with faster access to appointments and more control over when you're treated. Health insurance can help you fund it.''

Matthew Harwood, Home & lifestyle insurance expert at Confused.com
Home & lifestyle insurance expert Confused.com logo
The Confused.com medical insurance service is provided by Howden Life & Health Ltd of Hadley House, Endsleigh Park, Cheltenham, GL51 4AE a trading style of Assured Futures Ltd registered in England & Wales company number 3040737. Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Firm reference number 176392 as detailed on the Financial Services Register. Our service is free and compares a wide range of trusted household names. Confused.com is an intermediary and receives commission from Assured Futures Ltd which is based on a percentage of the total annual premium if you decide to buy through our website. We pride ourselves on impartiality on independence - therefore we don't promote any one insurance provider over another.

Page last reviewed: 14 November 2023

Reviewed by: Matthew Harwood