With the NHS in many parts of the UK struggling to meet demand and reduce waitlist times, more people are considering treatment through private healthcare.

In fact, our recent study found that close to one in three (27%) UK adults are considering buying health insurance in the next 12 months. And 38% have paid for private medical treatments in the past year. 1

In this guide we share what you need to know about buying health insurance to cover the cost of private treatment.

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What is health insurance?

Health insurance is an optional policy that covers the cost of private healthcare. You can access private medical care without health insurance and pay for it yourself. But this can be expensive, particularly if it involves a major procedure or a lengthy course of treatment.

With a private health insurance policy, you pay a monthly or yearly premium that covers various treatments, depending on the policy conditions.

If you’re employed, it’s worth checking if health insurance is available as an employee benefit.

What are the pros of health insurance?

  • Managing the cost of private treatment, avoiding expensive self-funded medical bills
  • Appointment times and access to treatment is usually faster, depending on the condition
  • Some policies offer additional benefits like annual health checks
  • Depending on your condition, you have more say over who treats you and the type of treatment you receive
  • You’ll usually have your own room in a private hospital

What are the cons of health insurance?

  • Cost - health insurance can be expensive, especially for comprehensive plans
  • Coverage - some policies may not cover pre-existing medical conditions
  • Location - there can be limitations in where you access treatment
  • Exclusions - some conditions and treatments may not be covered
  • Excess - you’ll usually have to pay for part of the treatment yourself depending on your excess, or you may have to pay something up-front

What are the different types of health insurance plans?

Plans vary across providers but most offer basic cover with the ability to add enhancements and/or a more comprehensive policy. Most policies include inpatient, outpatient and day patient cover, but do check this before you buy.

You can usually choose individual health insurance, or you can get family health insurance for an additional cost which covers your partner and children.

Some other types of health insurance cover include:

Plan TypeCoverageExample benefits
Treatment onlyPrivate treatment after NHS diagnosisFaster treatment times, private hospitals
Diagnosis onlyCost of diagnosis (but not the treatment itself)Specialist consultations, diagnostic tests
Cash plansRoutine appointments and some treatmentsAnnual dental check-ups, physiotherapy

How much is health insurance?

  • Lifestyle
  • Medical history
  • Age
  • Family history

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How to choose health insurance

  • Your health – if you have any existing medical conditions or had extensive treatment in the past, check if the insurer will cover you
  • Compare plans – create a shortlist so you can compare coverage, premiums, up-front costs, exclusions and excess amounts
  • Flexibility – check how flexible insurers are in allowing you to choose healthcare providers and facilities
  • Health insurance benefits – check if there are any other benefits that would be helpful for you and your family
  • Research reviews – reading Smart Money People customer reviews will give you an insight into what it’s really like to be a customer

Always give as much information as you can when you’re applying for a policy as this will avoid claims being declined and cover being cancelled. If there’s anything you’re not sure how to answer, speak to the insurer before submitting your application.

In a nutshell

Health insurance isn’t compulsory, but it provides reassurance that you can access private medical treatment should you need it.

Read Smart Money People reviews as part of your research to see how customers feel about insurers and their policies before you make a decision. When you’ve chosen a policy, check the conditions carefully to make sure you have the cover you expected.

If you’ve already bought this type of policy, help other people just like you to make a smart financial decision by writing a health insurance review.

1Smart Money People commissioned a nationally representative survey of 2,000 UK adults with OnePoll. The survey ran 15 – 21 February 2024. OnePoll is an MRS Company Partner. The survey found 27% of UK adults are considering purchasing health insurance in the next 6 – 12 months. The UK adult population is 53,188,204 according to latest ONS figures. 27% of 53,188,204 = 14,360,815 = 14 million adults