Private Medical Insurance

What is private medical insurance and where can you get the best deals?

If you need medical treatment, private medical insurance (PMI) gives you the option to choose private treatment instead of using the NHS. It’s a nice-to-have rather than essential so you should think carefully about whether you need it and, if so, what type of policy to take out to make sure you’re getting what you want at a price you can afford.

What is private medical insurance?

Private medical insurance covers the cost of private healthcare if you need medical treatment, whether that involves staying in hospital or as an outpatient if your policy includes it, so you don’t have to pay for it yourself.

Whether you should take it out is down to personal choice. One benefit is that you may be seen more quickly than with the NHS and be able to avoid waiting lists. Depending on the policy, you’ll also have more choice over where you are treated and may have access to specialists, hospitals and treatment not available on the NHS.

You may have a more comfortable stay in a private hospital and will get a private room rather than being in a ward with other people.

How does private medical insurance work?

As with other types of insurance, you pay a monthly or annual premium to a health insurer.

If you have a health issue you usually need to see your GP first, although you may be able to contact your insurer directly about certain conditions. If you need to be referred you then contact your insurer to claim on your policy. If it’s approved your appointment will be booked and once you’ve had the treatment the insurer will cover all or some of the cost.

You can take out an individual policy just for yourself, joint health insurance for you and your partner or a policy to cover the whole family. There’s also child health insurance if you want it just for your child or children.

You can also choose to be covered for treatment only or for partial or full diagnosis as well.

Private medical insurance pros and cons

Pros:

  • Having private medical insurance means you can afford to get private healthcare rather than going through the NHS if you don’t want to wait for treatment, would rather be treated in a private hospital or want access to treatment not available on the NHS.
  • It gives you more choice about where you are treated and by who compared to using the NHS.
  • You can choose to be referred to a private specialist you might not be able to see otherwise.

Cons:

  • It costs more the older you are and if you are a smoker as you are more likely to need medical treatment.
  • You’ll usually need to pay for part of the cost yourself – known as the ‘excess’ – or you’ll pay significantly more for your policy. It may apply every time you claim or just once each year.
  • Some things aren’t covered – known as exclusions. These generally include pre-existing and chronic conditions, as well as certain types of treatment, such as dentistry and cosmetic surgery, and treatment in certain situations, such as when injuries are self-inflicted or due to drug or alcohol misuse. You can pay extra to include certain add-ons though.

Which private medical insurance comparison site can save you the most?

We gathered private medical insurance quotes from the four biggest price comparison sites – Compare the Market, Confused.com, Go Compare and MoneySuperMarket – for three different scenarios to give you an idea of how much you might pay and how quotes differ.

The quotes below are the lowest offered by each comparison site for cover for treatment and full diagnosis for a 30-year-old, 50-year-old and 70-year-old non-smoker without a no-claims discount. Policies have an excess of £250.

Prices are per month. The cheapest quotes for each scenario are shown in bold.

Some comparison sites offer rewards when you take out certain types of insurance with them. Compare the Market is the only one of the four we looked at to give you rewards for taking out private medical insurance. Details are included below.

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Private medical insurance comparison site costs compared:

Comparison site30-year-old50-year-old70-year-oldComparison site rewards
Compare the Market£43.20 (General & Medical)£75.68 (General & Medical)£179.99 (General & Medical)2 for 1 cinema tickets on Tuesdays and Wednesdays; discounts on takeaway food and eating out
Confused.com£43.20 (General & Medical)£75.68 (General & Medical)£179.99 (General & Medical)None
GoCompare£23.88 (General & Medical)£41.83 (General & Medical)£99.49 (General & Medical)None
Money Super Market MoneySuperMarket£23.88 (General & Medical)£41.83 (General & Medical)£99.49 (General & Medical)None

Notes: Quotes gathered on 8 June 2021 for a policy starting on 1 July 2021.

Compare the Market and Confused.com have partnered with health insurance broker Assured Futures to provide quotes and GoCompare and MoneySuperMarket have partnered with another broker, ActiveQuote.

As you can see, the best quotes offered through the two brokers are very different, even though the insurer is the same. This is because they are quoting for different policies available from the insurer with different levels of cover.

When you’re using comparison sites to compare quotes it’s important to make sure you’re comparing like for like and use two or three to get the full picture.

Private medical insurance FAQs:

How can you get the best private medical insurance quotes?

You should shop around using two or three comparison sites or speak to a broker directly to get advice, especially if you have pre-existing conditions. Make sure the policies you’re gathering quotes for have everything you want to include and would meet your needs to get a fair comparison of prices.

It’s also worth seeing if you can save money by switching each year but you might not be covered for recurrences of a health issue that first occurred while you were with your original provider as it will be seen as a pre-existing condition.

Which comparison site works with the most private medical insurance providers?

The four comparison sites we looked at all work with health insurance brokers to offer quotes and policies so the PMI providers they can quote for depends on the relationships the brokers have with them.

When we gathered quotes, Compare the Market, GoCompare and MoneySuperMarket offered quotes from nine providers for the scenarios we looked at while Confused.com gave us quotes from eight. This is likely to change regularly, however, and will depend on your circumstances.

How much does private medical insurance cost?

The cost of PMI can vary widely depending on what you want your policy to include and your age, lifestyle and location along with other factors. In our scenarios above prices ranged from £23.88 a month (adding up to £286.56 a year) for a 30-year-old to £179.99 a month (£2,159.88 a year) for a 70-year-old.

How can I reduce the cost of private medical insurance?

Ways you can keep costs down are choosing to pay a higher excess and/or agreeing to pay a certain percentage on top of this (known as co-payment), having no or less outpatient cover, agreeing to a smaller choice of hospitals and choosing a policy that only lets you claim if you can’t be treated by the NHS within six weeks, known as a ‘six-week option’.

You’ll also get a discount for each year you don’t claim on your policy as with car and home insurance.

What does private medical insurance cover?

Private medical insurance is designed to cover health issues that are acute and potentially curable, such as cancer and heart disease, that occur after you take your policy out rather than long-term ones.

Basic policies will include treatment you need to stay in hospital for and the cost of your stay, the next level up will include treatment as an outpatient as well and comprehensive policies will also include cover for extras such as mental health issues and physiotherapy. If you choose to cover diagnosis as well, tests will be included.

The more cover you want to include, the higher the price you’ll pay. Cheaper policies may also have more exclusions so check the wording of policies carefully.

What alternatives are there to private medical insurance?

Rather than taking out PMI, you can use your savings to pay for private treatment instead if you have enough to cover the treatment you need but it could be very expensive. You can also pay to see a private consultant to get a second opinion and then have the treatment on the NHS.

Healthcare cash plans are another type of insurance that help to cover the cost of routine healthcare you have to pay for such as dentistry or optician appointments. These don’t cover you for acute medical conditions that develop though.

Is private medical insurance worth it?

Private medical insurance is a luxury and can be expensive so it’s not worth taking out if you’re happy to rely on the NHS, you don’t have spare cash to pay for it or you could afford to cover private treatment yourself from your savings. You should also check whether your employer offers it as a low or no-cost benefit.

For serious conditions such as cancer you may get just as good or better treatment on the NHS and won’t necessarily be seen more quickly if you go private.

It’s worth considering PMI if you want access to treatments not available on the NHS, such as specialist surgery for sports injuries.