How to compare the best health insurance policies in the UK

7 min Read Published: 17 Mar 2024
Cheapest and best private health insurance
Where to buy the best private health insurance policy

In this article, we explain what private health insurance is, why there are different types of cover and explain the difference between them. We explain what is and isn't covered on a private health insurance policy and how best to compare the costs. If you are ready to start searching, you can get an instant health insurance quote online* or arrange for a health insurance specialist to call you back and for a limited time, you'll receive £100 cashback when you buy a health insurance policy this way. (offer ends 30th April 2024)

What is private health insurance?

Private health insurance (also known as private medical insurance or PMI) is a type of insurance that will pay for private medical treatment if you become ill or suffer an injury. Where it becomes slightly more complicated is that there are different levels and types of cover and so it can be hard to compare costs and understand exactly what is the best and cheapest private health insurance policy.

What does private health insurance cover?

The terms and conditions of a private health insurance policy tend to vary one insurance company to the next but most providers will cover you for the following:

Included as standard
Hospital accommodation
Nursing care
Inpatient treatment
Outpatient treatment
Additional cover (additional therapy, psychiatric care etc) varies by insurer

Although many of the above benefits are covered on a health insurance policy, some may be capped or restricted and it is important to understand what is and isn't covered before you decide to buy health insurance.

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What isn't covered by a private health insurance policy?

Most insurers that provide private health insurance will not cover you for the following:

Not included as standard
Pre-existing medical conditions (unless moratorium application and no symptoms or treatment for at least 2 years)
Long term or chronic medical conditions
Other conditions (pregnancy, transplants, drug abuse, elective/cosmetic treatment) vary by insurer

What type of private health insurance policy should I buy?

Private health insurance is a fairly complex product, primarily because each insurer offers a slightly different product which can make it difficult to compare policies. One of the first decisions you have to make is the level of cover you want. While insurers may have different names for the levels of cover as well as various technical differences, the levels of cover can broadly be defined as basic, intermediate and comprehensive. We look at each type of cover below, explaining what level of cover you should expect for each.

Basic health insurance - limited cover for treatment only on a budget

Treatment-only cover is the most basic level of private health insurance (also known as private medical insurance or PMI). This type of private health insurance will generally cover the cost of your treatment, surgery, medication and accommodation, but not any of the diagnostics such as any scans or consultations. You will usually be required to be referred by an NHS doctor or consultant. Some basic policies can also provide cancer cover.

Intermediate health insurance - treatment and limited diagnostic cover to be seen quickly

Treatment and limited diagnostic cover will cover you for your treatment plus a limited amount of diagnostics, such as consultations, tests, x-rays etc. Each insurer will have a slightly different definition and so it is worth looking at the terms and conditions when comparing private health insurance policies. For example, an insurer could be £2 more expensive per month, but provide more diagnostic cover and so you may be better off going for the slightly more expensive option. We compare the costs of all three types of cover later in this article.

Comprehensive cover - treatment and full diagnostic cover so you are fully covered

Treatment and full diagnostic cover is the most comprehensive type of private health insurance and can be the most expensive. You will be covered for full treatment costs and unlimited diagnostics, consultation tests, scans and x-rays.

What excess should I choose for my private health insurance policy?

As well as the level of cover, you need to decide on the amount of excess you are willing to pay. Similar to home, travel and car insurance, you have the choice of how much excess you are happy to pay when making a claim. The higher the amount of excess you are willing to pay, the lower your premium will be. Most insurers will allow you to pay between £0 and £1,000 and we compare the costs of each later in this article.

Compare the best private health insurance policies

Below we have compared the cost of private health insurance policies for a healthy 35-year-old non-smoker. When comparing quotes, always make sure that you look at the terms and conditions and check exactly what you are covered for. Not all policies are like-for-like and in fact, while building the comparison table below, we decided to overlook some of the quotes because although they were the cheapest, they offered significantly less cover than the next comparably priced insurer.

You can also get a health insurance quote* for your specific details or request a health insurance adviser to call you to discuss your needs. We would always recommend that you speak to a specialist adviser when buying private health insurance as they will be able to explain the differences between each policy and help you to choose the best policy based on your own circumstances. We explain how to get the best private health insurance policy below.

Monthly cost of private health insurance at different levels of cover and excess

£0 Excess £100 Excess £250 Excess £500 Excess £1,000 Excess
Basic £35.85 £33.16 £30.48 £26.35 £23.31
Intermediate £43.51 £40.24 £36.98 £32.63 £28.28
Comprehensive £66.04 £61.08 £55.40 £49.08 £37.99

How do I apply for private health insurance and what information do insurers require?

Once you have decided on what level of cover you are interested in purchasing (Basic, Intermediate or Comprehensive) and the level of excess you are comfortable with, you then have the choice of the type of cover you want to apply for. The two main types of cover are known as 'fully underwritten' and 'moratorium' although there are other types of cover known as 'continued' cover and 'specialist' cover. We explain each of the types of cover below.

What is a fully underwritten private health insurance policy?

A fully underwritten private health insurance plan is where you provide all of your medical information to the insurance company for them to fully assess you. It may take longer for the cover to commence and you may have exclusions applied based on your health history but you will know exactly what you are covered for from inception of the policy.

What is a moratorium private health insurance policy?

With a moratorium policy, you are only required to give limited medical information and so the policy will usually commence far quicker in comparison to a fully underwritten policy. Applying for a moratorium policy is more convenient, but you will not have full clarity on what you are covered for as you will not have been fully medically underwritten. An insurer would normally exclude any conditions for which you have had treatment in the last 5 years, however, after two years, some insurers would allow you to be covered for conditions as long as you have not received treatment or had any further symptoms of the condition. It is worth noting that a fully underwritten private health insurance policy is normally cheaper.

What is a continued private health insurance policy?

This is where you apply for health insurance that will take over from an existing health insurance policy that covers you. The insurer will allow you to copy over the exclusions from a policy provided by your existing insurer. There is likely to be some variation in terms from insurer to insurer and so make sure you check when considering a switch.

What is a specialist private health insurance policy?

Some insurers offer specialist policies with a range of terms and conditions. Some, for example, may pay particular focus to a certain disease such as cancer or perhaps only cover you if the waiting time on the NHS exceeds 6 to 8 weeks.

What is the best private health insurance policy in the UK?

Most people will have heard of Bupa, Axa and Vitality, but there are other lesser-known companies that provide excellent private health insurance and so you should always do a comprehensive comparison before you commit to one insurer. The best way to buy private health insurance is to speak to a specialist adviser as they will be able to find you the best policy for your own unique circumstances. If you have a set budget, for example, they will shop around to find you the most comprehensive cover to fit your budget.

We have partnered with one of the UK's leading private health insurance comparison specialists* in order to provide you with the best and cheapest policies available. You can either build your own quote or request that an adviser calls you back. Once you buy your health insurance plan, you'll receive £100 cashback - offer ends 30th April 2024.

Tips to help you choose the right private health insurance policy

  • Decide the level of cover you want
  • Decide the excess you are happy to pay
  • How far are you willing to travel for treatment (some insurers charge more for treatment in London for example)
  • Does the insurer offer other incentives (discounted gym membership, free coffees etc) - read our Vitality review for more information
  • Speak to a specialist adviser as they will do the hard work for you


What are the pros and cons of a private health insurance policy?

Below we have summarised the main pros and cons of buying private health insurance.


  • Quick access to tests, x-rays, consultants and treatment
  • Control over where and when you receive treatment
  • Access to drugs that may not widely be available on the NHS
  • Access to treatment that may not be widely available on the NHS


  • Some policies can be costly
  • You may not be covered for all conditions
  • Chronic conditions are often excluded


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