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What is health insurance?

March 17, 2020 4 min read

What is health insurance?

Health insurance is an insurance policy designed to cover the cost of private medical treatment. It will generally cover you for ‘acute conditions’, such as a hip replacement or having a hernia removed. You can buy different types of policies that offer various levels of cover, at varying costs. This could include fast-track diagnostics for cancer or access to different cancer treatments not currently available on the NHS.

Over 1.6 million households in the UK have some kind of private medical insurance. So what’s on offer, and is it right for you?

What policies are available and what’s covered?

Policies range from basic through to comprehensive.

Basic policies typically cover:

  • any in-patient treatment that you might need, such as surgery
  • the cost of your hospital stay

More extensive policies might also include out-patient treatment, which covers the expense of seeing specialists and consultants, as well as the cost of undergoing diagnostic or follow-up tests. 

In some cases, you’ll also be given the option of tailoring the policy so that it suits the care you might need, as well as your budget. You could include add-ons such as:

  • dental care
  • eye care
  • physiotherapy
  • homeopathy
  • mental health support
  • pregnancy or maternity services

If you want health insurance that covers someone other than yourself, you might want to find out about child health insurance, family health insurance or joint health insurance.

What kinds of things aren’t covered by private medical insurance?

Private medical insurance is largely designed to complement NHS care and won’t usually cover you for pre-existing conditions, or chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis. If these affect you, then you should always make sure you know what your policy covers and that you’re happy with any exclusions.

You’ll still need to use the NHS for accident and emergency.

What are the benefits of private medical insurance?

Private medical insurance generally gives you:

  • quicker access to consultants, tests, and treatment
  • greater control over which hospital you go to, and when
    in some instances, access to treatment and drugs that aren’t widely available on the NHS
  • Private hospitals can also make your stay more comfortable with amenities, such as TV and private en-suite rooms. 

Because you can often choose when and where you’re treated, access to private healthcare can be invaluable if you’re self-employed or have a job where timing is an important factor. 

What’s the process of getting private health insurance?

When you compare health insurance quotes at Compare the Market, we’ll initially ask you questions about yourself, such as what your job is, your age, where you live and whether you smoke. We’ll then show you a list of quotes to choose from. 

Once you’ve made an application, insurance providers may ask you for more details, including whether you have any pre-existing conditions. They might also ask general health and wellbeing questions in order to build up a picture of how healthy your lifestyle is and what the likelihood is of you making a claim.

What should I consider when choosing private health insurance?

Here are some of the important things to keep in mind when you compare health insurance quotes:

  • You’ll need to decide what level of cover you want - a comprehensive policy will cover you for most eventualities without a cost limit. Less expensive policies will set a cap on how much you can claim for, and these caps will vary according to the treatment involved
    Some insurance providers will have a tiered pricing level - certain hospitals – for example, those within
  • London – might bump up the cost of your premium. It’s worth considering how far you’re really willing to travel in order to receive treatment
    There might be incentives to buy health insurance - such as price reductions on gym memberships as well as discounts on other types of insurance with the same provider
  • If you decide on a very basic policy - take the time to read any exclusions and make sure that you’re comfortable with what’s included – you could find the list of covered out-patient treatment is very limited, or it might not be included at all
  • The cost of health insurance is likely to increase as you get older - so don’t be surprised if your premium rises after each birthday. This is partly due to inflation, but it also has to cover the cost of advances in technology and testing. Plus, as you get older, there is sadly a greater chance of you needing to make a claim

You can reduce your health insurance premiums by: 

  1. choosing to pay a bigger excess – but make sure it’s realistic and affordable because you’ll need to pay it before your claim can be processed
  2. opting for less out-patient cover - or none at all
  3. agreeing to a reduced hospital list – this means that you won’t be able to choose from as many hospitals for treatment as you might with a standard policy
  4. choosing a ‘six-week option’ - available from some providers, which means if the NHS can treat you within six weeks, then you won’t be able to make a claim

You might also find that you’re offered a no claims discount – so you’ll be rewarded with a lower premium for every year you don’t make a claim. Some insurance providers will also discount your premium, or offer you cashback if you can show that you’re generally fit and healthy.