What is health insurance?

Having health insurance means you get private healthcare treatment if you are ill or injured.

Many people like to have medical insurance in the UK, even though the NHS offers free healthcare. This is because private healthcare comes with added benefits, such as faster treatment.

As with any kind of insurance, medical insurance comes at a price. Private health insurance may work out cheaper than paying for the treatment outright.

The benefits of health insurance

With private healthcare you will be seen and treated faster. You could have treatments or drugs that are unavailable on the NHS. You could also be treated in a private hospital with your own room. Plus, you are free to choose your doctor and hospital.

Types of private medical insurance

When you compare private health insurance, decide what health insurance plan suits you first. There are four types:

Individual health insurance covers one person’s medical needs

Family health insurance is for you, your partner and children

Joint health insurance covers two people, usually you and your partner

Children can have their own health insurance plan or they can be added to your medical insurance.

If you are over 50, you might also like to think about choosing a private medical insurance policy for your age group.

What does a private medical insurance policy cover?

Your private health insurance plan will cover you for treatment as an inpatient. It will also cover when you stay overnight in a hospital bed, for example for surgery as an outpatient. Consultations, diagnosis and treatment that do not need an overnight stay, so you would be a day patient. This means you attend regular appointments, but don’t need to stay in a hospital overnight.

Think about what you want your private health insurance to cover. This could be illnesses, symptoms, injuries, and treatments. The more illnesses and injuries you cover, the more your health insurance will cost.

If you want to cover serious illnesses like cancer, your private healthcare could cost more. The price would go up if you cover existing conditions too, such as asthma or physiotherapy.

Most medical insurance policies do not cover long-term conditions or emergencies. They also don’t cover treatment you choose to have, drug abuse, treatment abroad or pregnancy care. Health insurance is usually for severe, curable and short-term conditions.

How does private health insurance work?

Private medical insurance works like any other insurance. You pay for it monthly or yearly and make a claim when you need to. If you need to make a claim, your health insurance provider will pay out for some or all of your private healthcare treatment.

You might find that your health insurance plan has a limit on how many individual claims you can make each year. There could also be limits on how many conditions you claim for and how many treatment types.

Remember, you can still get free NHS treatment even if you have private health insurance. Private healthcare is designed to work alongside the NHS.

How to find the best private health insurance in the UK

The best private health insurance in the UK is known as comprehensive insurance. It’s considered the best because it covers a wider range of treatments and conditions. But it’s not always the cheapest option.

Some medical insurance policies let you pick what they cover and base the price around this. After you’ve decided what you want, you can compare health insurance policies using our health insurance comparison.

Compare health insurance quotes by looking at the cover, cost, excess and any claim limits. It's also good to know if there's a delay between buying the policy and making your first claim.

How much does health insurance cost?

The cost of your medical insurance is affected by many factors. These include:


medical history

family medical history


what you want to cover.

There are two costs to think about – the cost of your policy and your excess. When you make a medical insurance claim, you usually have to pay a charge to make a claim.

If you need to lower the cost of your health insurance plan, there are several ways to do this.

Higher excess

Discount if you don’t make a claim

If the NHS waiting list is less than the private one, you can have treatment on the NHS instead

Prove to insurers that you’re healthy, such as going to the gym

Ask to be covered by a small handful of hospitals.

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