How to choose health insurance

The right health insurance policy can save you money if you want private treatment for an illness or injury. Here is how to find health insurance that covers everything you need.

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Do you need health insurance?

You only need it if you want private healthcare treatment should you fall ill or are injured in the future.

Health insurance can pay for private treatment of medical conditions and injuries you would usually have to pay for because:

  • Your treatment is not available on the NHS

  • You want the treatment immediately (without joining an NHS waiting list)

  • You want the extra comfort of a private hospital

Is it worth it?

Private treatment is not usually worth it if you are happy with the treatment you can get on the NHS.

But if you want private treatment, health insurance could be the easiest way to pay for it and to make sure you can afford it if you need it.

Each private hospital or health consultant sets their own charges. Although you can pay for private treatment directly, health insurance lets you pay a monthly premium instead. It then pays out if you need any treatment it covers.

Paying an agreed monthly amount for your policy can help you budget more easily than directly paying for unexpected health costs as they arise.

But health insurance is only worth it if you can find a policy that covers everything you need.

What types can you get?

  • Individual policies: These are taken out in just one person's name and can only pay out for treatment for that person.

  • Joint policies: You can cover two people on the same policy, e.g. yourself and your partner. This could be cheaper than getting separate health insurance policies (but it is worth checking if getting separate policies works out cheaper).

  • Family policies: These let you cover yourself, your partner and your children on one policy. You can pay to cover the whole family with one monthly premium instead of paying for everyone separately.

  • Children's policies: You can either get a standalone policy for your child or add cover for your children to your own health insurance.

Full or moratorium underwriting

  • Fully underwritten policies can pay out in more circumstances but are usually more expensive and take longer to apply for.

  • Moratorium policies are usually cheaper, faster to apply for and more likely to accept you if you have pre-existing conditions. But they can pay out in fewer circumstances.

If you choose fully underwritten health insurance, you have to give your full medical history.

You do this by filling out a declaration when you apply. The insurer may ask for a doctor's letter or report to confirm your medical details.

If you get a policy with moratorium underwriting instead, you do not need to give information about your medical history.

But it will not pay out for treatment for any pre-existing conditions. This usually means any you have had in the past five years.

How to get health insurance

comprehensive policy can cover a wide range of treatments but does not always offer the best value for money.

You could save money by choosing the cheapest policy that covers all the treatment you think you might need.

Some "pick and mix" policies let you add exactly the cover you need and set a price based on which options you choose. This can be the cheapest way to get a policy that includes exactly what you need.

For example, you could choose a policy that covers hospital stays, diagnoses and physiotherapy but not dental costs or homeopathic therapies.

How to choose a policy

Work out:

  • What illnesses and injuries you want to cover, e.g. cancer

  • What types of treatment you want to cover, e.g. physiotherapy and dental treatment

You can then find policies using our health insurance comparison, which shows a range of providers and what their policies offer.

You could also get health insurance quotes from a broker by either entering your details online or talking to them by phone.

You can then compare the quotes to find the best policy by checking:

  • They offer all the cover you need

  • The cost of the premium (usually paid monthly)

  • The excess you have to pay if you claim

  • Any limits on how much or how often you can claim

  • If there is a qualifying period (i.e. how long you have to wait until you can make a claim)

Consider the alternatives

Instead of health insurance, you could get:

  • Free treatment on the NHS, which covers most types of illness or injury.

  • Healthcare cash plans, which you pay into monthly. You can claim back for the cost of some types of medical treatment after you have paid the bill yourself.

Although it is not designed to pay for medical care, critical illness cover is a type of insurance that pays out if you develop any of the serious illnesses the policy covers.