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Guide to Health Insurance

How to

By Nevena Mulyachka and Mark Todd
Nevena Mulyachka is moneyhelpline’s Marketing Manager, specialising in money products such as insurance, credit cards, loans and savings. Mark Todd is one of the founders of energyhelpline and moneyhelpline. He is regularly on BBC1 and Radio 5 Live commenting on switching and saving.

Our health insurance comparison service is powered by ActiveQuote, one of the UK’s leading comparison sites & brokers of health and protection insurance products.

Last updated 12/01/2016

What is health insurance?

Health insurance provides you and your family with quick medical treatment at a hospital of your choice when you need it the most.

  • You avoid lengthy NHS waiting lists and put yourself and your family in control of your health.
  • You choose who treats you, when you’re treated and where you have your treatment so you get the comfort, privacy and convenience you desire.

Why should I get health insurance?

Health insurance is designed to complement the NHS because sometimes we just can’t afford to be sitting on lengthy waiting lists. It is there to get you the prompt service and speedy treatment you need.

Did you know?


You get to choose where you want to be treated. Many policies offer a wide range of over 250 private hospitals and wards. You can also choose which specialist consultant treats you. Neither of these choices are available on the NHS.



You can be treated in a private room rather than stay in an open ward which might also be mixed-sex. Your room can also have home luxuries such as an en-suite bathroom, wi-fi, high quality food, flexible visiting hours and a widescreen TV.



You can get drugs and treatment that you might not otherwise have access to on the NHS e.g. specialist surgery for sports-related injuries. Some policies can also grant access to ground-breaking treatments and drugs that the NHS simply does not have the funding to allocate.


You can also get the scans you want, when you want; if the NHS delays a scan or won’t let you have one, you can use your cover to pay for it. You’ll also be able to get quicker access to physiotherapy sessions if you have insurance.

Did you know?

How to cut the cost of health insurance

There are many ways to tailor your health insurance to meet your needs and budget.

Deciding your policy excess

Excesses for health insurance policies work in a similar way to excesses on car or home insurance. If you need private medical treatment, you pay your chosen excess and the insurer foots the rest of the bill. So if you want to cut the costs of your insurance, you can increase your policy excess so that while your monthly premiums will be reduced.

Check your policy document to find out exactly how your excess works, because definitions can vary between policies. Broadly speaking, the higher the excess, the lower your premium will be. The maximum voluntary excess varies substantially between insurers but is typically £1,000 or less.

There are specific high-excess plans such as WPA's XS Health, which have higher excesses. Effectively, you bear the cost of minor treatment with these schemes but are covered against the open-ended cost of serious illness.

No-claims discounts

PruHealth has an innovative 'Vitality' scheme, which allows policyholders to qualify for a discount on next year's premium by doing exercise, eating healthily and having annual check-ups.

Aviva's 'My Health Counts' programme works in a similar way, encouraging members to input health information, such as height, weight and blood pressure.

Shared responsibility schemes

With these health insurance policies, premiums can be kept down if you agree to pay a percentage of the cost of any treatments you have. The theory is that doing so gives you an incentive to keep costs down.

CS Healthcare and WPA both offer this option. Generally, the more you agree to pay, the lower your premium.

Delayed treatment

Another option for cutting costs is to use your private insurance only if the NHS can't treat you quickly. Some insurers, including AXA-PPP and Aviva offer plans with a six-week wait option, whilst Saga and Universal Provident offer four-week and 90-day options respectively.

This means that if you are told you have to wait for more than, say, six weeks for NHS treatment after your specialist says that you need it, your insurer will pay for you to be seen more quickly privately.

What health insurance doesn’t cover

Your insurance usually won’t cover private treatment for:

  • pre-existing medical conditions
  • chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDs-related illnesses, diabetes, epilepsy, hypertension and related illnesses
  • normal pregnancy and childbirth costs
  • organ transplants
  • injuries relating to dangerous sports or arising from war or war-like hostilities
  • cosmetic surgery to improve your appearance
You may be able to choose a policy which covers mental health, depression and sports injuries but these aren't always covered.

Many insurance companies have moved away from the one size fits all approach and offer more adaptable policies. Make a list of what you want to be covered for and what is less important so you only buy the cover you need. For example, do you want to stay in a particular hospital, want access to particular cancer drugs or want a speedy diagnosis?

You can tailor your policies online using our comparison tool so that you can pick and choose what you want to be covered allowing you to build your policy around what you want.

A word of caution

* Department of Health data source here


Health Insurance

 These guides are for informational purposes only and do not constitute advice. For best personal advice contact a financial adviser.

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