A reported 6.4 million patients are currently awaiting NHS treatment in England, the highest since records began. With waiting lists set to grow further in the coming months, many people are considering taking out their own private health insurance policies, meaning they can access treatment if needed and skip the NHS waiting lists. It does come at a cost however and so in this article, we explain what health insurance is, what it covers and whether you should consider it. We also explain the types of low-cost health insurance cover that are available, which type of health insurance is cheapest and where best to buy cheap health cover.
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What is 'low-cost' private health insurance and what does it cover?
Health insurance - sometimes referred to as private health insurance or private medical insurance - is a type of insurance policy that covers the cost of private medical care including private treatment. There are many different types of health insurance, ranging from the most basic type of policy that covers a limited amount of treatment (Which is also the cheapest), right up to the most comprehensive cover that pays out for unlimited tests, scans and medical care as well as additional benefits such as access to new drugs and cash payments if you require an overnight stay.
There are a number of considerations when buying health insurance, such as the excess you are willing to pay and the type of underwriting you would prefer. Generally speaking, the higher the excess you choose the cheaper the cover and most insurers offer excess options of £0, £100, £250, £500 and £1,000, although some do go up to £5,000.
We explain health insurance and what it covers in more detail in our article "What does health insurance cover?".
What are the different types of health insurance you can buy?
Broadly speaking, health insurance is broken down into three types of cover; basic, intermediate and comprehensive. Most health insurance companies offer three levels of cover, however, the cover varies from provider to provider making it difficult to compare policies as they are rarely like-for-like. In order to try and explain the main differences between basic, intermediate and comprehensive cover, we have provided a table below that demonstrates how each policy could differ.
Again, it is worth stressing that the table below is to help demonstrate how the different levels of cover differ and it is likely to be different depending on which insurance company you choose. We would always recommend that you speak to an independent health insurance specialist* when comparing cover to ensure that you are getting the very best health insurance policy for your own circumstances. Optional extra benefits may suit some people but may not be worth the extra cost for others and this may reduce the cost of your health insurance.
We explain the types of health insurance you can buy in more detail in our article "What type of health insurance should I get?".
Types of health insurance and approximate monthly cost
|Benefits||Basic health insurance policy||Intermediate health insurance policy||
Comprehensive health insurance policy
|Tests, Scans & Consultations||None or Limited||Limited||Unlimited|
|Hospital accommodation and nursing care||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Extended hospital list||No||Sometimes||Yes|
|Alternative therapies such as osteopathy & acupuncture||No||No||Yes|
|Advanced cancer cover||No||Sometimes||Yes|
|Cash payment for overnight stay||No||Sometimes||Yes|
|Approximate cost per month*||£30 - £40||£40 - £60||£60 - £80|
*cost based on a 35 year old non smoker with no pre-existing medical conditions
If you would prefer to speak to an expert, you can arrange a callback from a health insurance specialist* that we have vetted and provides independent advice, helping you find a tailored health insurance solution to suit your budget. For a limited time, you will receive £100 cashback if you arrange your health insurance this way - the offer ends 31 October 2023.
Which is the cheapest health insurance policy?
The cost of health insurance varies from insurer to insurer and so there isn't one specific policy or provider that is cheaper or better than any other. The cost of health insurance will largely depend on the type of policy you choose, your age, your smoker status and where you live. For the purposes of the quotes below, we have concentrated on the most basic type of health insurance which may only cover treatment and diagnosis and in some cases may not cover cancer treatment. When comparing health insurance quotes, you will find that the cheapest premiums may exclude benefits that other health insurance providers would include.
Cheapest 'low-cost' health insurance policy - Living in Devon
|Age||Basic health insurance policy monthly cost*||Insurer|
|25 year old||£29.88||The Exeter|
|30 year old||£33.32||Bupa|
|35 year old||£35.95||National Friendly|
|40 year old||£37.99||Vitality|
|45 year old||£43.44||Vitality|
|50 year old||£48.78||National Friendly|
|55 year old||£55.25||National Friendly|
|60 year old||£68.33||National Friendly|
*The excess selected was £250
Cheapest 'low-cost' health insurance policy - Living in London
|Age||Basic health insurance policy monthly cost*||Insurer|
|25 year old||£32.58||The Exeter|
|30 year old||£37.26||Bupa|
|35 year old||£38.00||Vitality|
|40 year old||£40.90||Vitality|
|45 year old||£49.21||Vitality|
|50 year old||£55.70||
|55 year old||£67.98||Vitality|
|60 year old||£79.83||Vitality|
*The excess selected was £250
As you can see from our tables above, the cost of health insurance varies depending on - amongst other things - your age and location, however, our research suggests that The Exeter and Vitality are likely to provide some of the cheapest health insurance quotes for most people. It is worth remembering that each health insurance provider is likely to offer a slightly different type of health insurance plan and so you should always speak to an independent health insurance specialist before making a final decision as they can compare the products side by side so you know exactly what you are buying.
Should you get cheap health insurance?
This is a difficult question to answer because everyone is different and each person is likely to have a different set of priorities. Affordable health insurance is achievable by choosing the parameters of the cover wisely without compromising the real value of access to private healthcare. We have provided a number of questions below that you can ask yourself when deciding whether you should get health insurance.
Are you concerned about current NHS wait times?
If the speed at which you can gain access to treatment is important to you then private health insurance would be a sensible purchase. We chatted to Emma Thomson in a recent podcast where she spoke openly about her breast cancer diagnosis and how her health insurance policy meant that she was able to gain access to fast diagnostic tests and life-saving surgery just a couple of weeks after her diagnosis. You can listen to her story by clicking on the play button below.
Have you got a history of poor health?
Health insurance policies do not cover you for any existing condition you have sought advice or treatment for in the last five years so your medical history may influence whether you choose health insurance. In addition, health insurance policies usually do not cover long-term or chronic conditions such as Crohn's Disease or Diabetes. You need to weigh up how likely it is that you will be able to claim on the policy and whether it is worth the monthly premium.
Would you prefer to choose how, where and when you are treated?
If you would like to have more of a say in how and where you are treated then you should consider taking out health insurance. It is unlikely you will get a choice as to how, where or when you are treated on the NHS and missing an appointment could result in an even longer wait.
Can you afford health insurance?
It is worth remembering that health insurance premiums tend to go up each year and the renewal price will be based on your age and health at the time of the renewal. However, just like car, pet and home insurance, there is nothing stopping you from shopping around each year and there are other things you can do to bring down the cost of the cover such as increasing the excess. You should consider speaking to an independent health insurance specialist* every time you get your renewal quote as they can compare every policy on the market and ensure you are getting the best policy at the best possible price. For a limited time, as a Money to the Masses reader, you will receive £100 cashback for arranging your health insurance this way - the offer ends 31 October 2023.
If a link has an * beside it this means that it is an affiliated link. If you go via the link, Money to the Masses may receive a small fee which helps keep Money to the Masses free to use. The following link can be used if you do not wish to help Money to the Masses - Assured Futures