Before we go any further, we need to state that while our research is thorough, the prices we are sharing are merely indicative. When you get a quote, the price you pay will be different from our findings. There are many reasons for this, from your postcode and age to the level of cover you require. We hope that our research gives you enough of a guide to decide whether you would like to get a comparison quote from a health insurance broker.
What is the average cost of health insurance in the UK?
Based on extensive research, looking at eight leading health insurers (Aviva, Axa, Bupa, Freedom, National Friendly, The Exeter, Vitality, WPA) in 10 UK towns and cities, we can reveal the average cost of health insurance in the UK is £86.07 per month (£1,032.84 per year)*.
*Pricing research conducted in February 2022. Average found by obtaining quotes from 8 leading providers for six age groups in ten towns and cities. See later in this post for our full methodology.
How guided consultants (restricted access) affects policy premiums
A significant difference between the insurers we sampled is whether they offer "guided consultants", which limits you to a pool of medical practitioners the health insurance companies have preselected. How they've preselected them is a bit of a mystery, but one would assume that as having guided consultants reduces the cost of your policy, the medical practitioners have likely agreed to favourable terms with the insurers. Importantly, all of the providers that offer guided consultants also offer "non-guided" (unrestricted) options, so, for fairness, we've included both in our research.
Important note on guided consultants
As outlined, you are restricted to the consultants on your insurer's "approved" list by going down the guided consultant route. That means that if there is a particular specialist that you want to perform your surgery or provide your care and they aren't on the list, you can't use them. We want to highlight this, as health insurance is often marketed as giving you more control over who treats you; however, with guided consultants, you somewhat give up that control. We're in the process of creating a separate article specifically about this topic and the potential pitfalls, so please watch this space.
Only four of the providers we looked at (Aviva, Axa, Bupa and Vitality) offer "guided consultants" (albeit with different names), so prices relating to guided consultants are based on those four providers only.
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- Having unrestricted consultant access (non-guided) will on average increase your premium by 20%.
- Premiums increase by between 25-33% every ten years, from 20 to 50 years old. However, after that, they rise more sharply with an approximate increase of 44% between 50 and 60 years old, and 59%, between 60 and 70 years old.
- Prices are nearly 400% higher for a 70 year old vs a 20 year old
How much does your postcode affect your health insurance premium?
Most health insurance providers charge different amounts based on where you live in the UK. There are several reasons for this, and how each insurer calculates prices will vary; however, typically, these are some of the factors they take into consideration:
- The cost of treatment in private hospitals and clinics close to you.
- The claim rate of your postcode.
- How affluent your area is.
- How many policyholders there are in your area.
As we say, exactly how the insurers calculate this will be unique to them, but it's important to note that in most cases the price you pay will depend on where you live.
Freedom Health Insurance doesn't adjust pricing based on where you live.
Freedom Health Insurance is the only insurer we looked at that didn't adjust their prices based on where you live. So whether you live in London or Edinburgh, the price you pay will be the same.
We asked Freedom Health Insurance why they take a different approach to most other providers. They told us:
Freedom Health Insurance has one of the most extensive standard hospitals lists of any of the providers we've reviewed. However, some more expensive hospitals, particularly those located in Central London, won't be covered as standard, which is consistent with the other providers we've researched. You can, however, opt to include those hospitals by taking out their "London Plus" hospital list option.
National Friendly also has less location-based pricing.
While Freedom is the only provider we looked at that doesn't change prices based on where you live, National Friendly also has less pricing variation than others. Of the ten cities we looked at, the only locations where National Friendly charged more were London and Manchester.
Price of health insurance in key towns and cities
We obtained pricing from the eight leading health insurers in ten towns and cities across the UK. As we explained earlier in this post, we have pricing for both restricted consultant access and unrestricted, however, to keep this part of our research as simple as possible, we've opted to take an average of the two, so we can provide you with just one price per age group, per location.
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Where is the cheapest place to buy health insurance in the UK?
Our research found that of the ten towns and cities we looked at, Edinburgh, Scotland was consistently the cheapest place to buy health insurance in the UK, at 15.74% under the national average.
Where is the most expensive place to buy health insurance in the UK?
London is the most expensive place in the UK to buy health insurance at 25.55% above the national average in our research. Manchester is the next most expensive, at 12.60% above the national average.
Ranked list of towns and cities (least to most expensive) vs national average
- Edinburgh -15.74%
- Leeds -7.35%
- Bristol -6.05%
- Cardiff -5.95%
- Oxford -5.35%
- Cambridge -5.06%
- Bournemouth +3.00%
- Birmingham +4.54%
- Manchester +12.60%
- London +25.55%
Findings and key takeaways
- Edinburgh was consistently the cheapest place to get health insurance, at 15.74% under the national average overall.
- London was consistently the most expensive place to get health insurance, at 25.55% above the national average overall.
- Birmingham, Manchester and Bournemouth were all above the national average.
- Cambridge and Bristol are almost the same as the national average.
- Oxford, Leeds and Cardiff are all below the national average for every age.
How do health insurers compare on price?
Comparing health insurers with each other is pretty tricky because all of their policies have differences that impact their prices. In this next section, we've looked to do as fair a comparison as possible, highlighting key differences where we think it's appropriate.
We strongly recommend that you speak to an independent health insurance broker to receive a personalised comparison quote and individual advice.
Unrestricted consultant access (non-guided)
All of the health insurance providers we sampled have the option of unrestricted consultant access, so we've decided to share those results with you first.
Please note: Opting for "guided consultants" is usually around 20% cheaper than unrestricted access if you are interested in how the four providers that offer this option compare, please see the next section of this article.
- Vitality was the cheapest provider in 5 out of 6 ages sampled; however, a unique 10% discount was applied on the basis the applicant hadn't had any significant health issues in the past three years (no other provider offers this). Even by removing that 10% discount, Vitality is still among the cheapest insurers for most ages.
- The Exeter and WPA are both competitive through all ages, with neither ever being the cheapest nor the most expensive.
- Aviva was the most expensive provider for every age, barring 20 year olds.
- Bupa starts well but loses competitiveness as age increases.
- Axa starts well but loses competitiveness as age increases.
- Freedom was relatively competitive up until 50 years old, after which their prices were above average.
- National Friendly is expensive if you're young but improves in competitiveness as age increases and is the cheapest provider for 70 year olds.
Restricted Consultant Access (guided)
Only four of the eight providers we looked at allow you to reduce your premium by restricting your access to their pool of pre-selected medical practitioners. Those insurers are Aviva, Axa, Bupa and Vitality - here’s how they compare.
- Aviva was consistently the most expensive provider - the highest in 5 out of 6 ages.
- Vitality was cheapest at every age from 40 upwards (4 out of 6); however, a 10% discount was applied based on the applicant having had no significant medical issues in the past three years. By removing that discount, Vitality was still among the cheapest providers.
- Axa starts very competitively, coming in as cheapest for 20 year olds; however, as age increases, their competitiveness reduces.
- Bupa is competitive for 20 and 30 year olds; however, beyond that, their competitiveness reduces.
Our research methodology
Private health insurance is a complicated financial product that can be configured in many ways - because of that, getting a meaningful average is difficult. While all insurers offer slightly different products, we've done our best to minimise the variables to provide you with some guide prices.
Our data sample
For this research, we focused on the cost of an individual policy, with the applicant being one of the following ages, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70 years old.
For each of those ages, we got quotations in 10 cities around the UK: Birmingham, Bournemouth, Bristol, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, London, Manchester, and Oxford.
Finally, we received quotes from the eight best private health insurance providers - WPA, The Exeter, AXA Health, Freedom, Bupa, National Friendly, Vitality and Aviva for those ages in those cities.
To get quotes from each of the eight insurers, we needed to decide what level of cover our fictional applicant required. Working with external health insurance brokers, we built a list of policy requirements based on what a typical policy might look like; in short, these were:
- The policy was comprehensive, scoring a four or five-star Defaqto rating.
- We included Outpatient Cover, limited to a maximum of £1,500 a year.
- We included Therapies Cover (i.e. physiotherapy, acupuncture and homoeopathy).
- The policy excess was set at £250 (or as close to that as possible)
- We excluded Mental Health Cover (Bupa, however, include this as standard).
- We defaulted to the insurer's standard hospital list.
- We excluded Dental, Optical and Travel Cover.
- The policy was underwritten on a moratorium basis.
- We got prices for both guided consultants and their non-guided options.
Aviva Website (February 2022)
Axa Website (February 2022)
Bupa Website (February 2022)
Freedom Website (February 2022)
National Friendly Website (February 2022)
The Exeter Website (February 2022)
Vitality Website (February 2022)
WPA Website (February 2022)
All prices accurate as of 16th February 2022.
How to reduce the cost of health insurance
So far in this article, we’ve outlined the factors which affect the price of private health insurance policies, along with some example pricing, but what if you want to reduce the cost? This section covers most of the ways we can help you to reduce the cost of private medical insurance:
1. Adding outpatient limits or removing cover entirely
If you are looking to reduce the cost of your health insurance significantly and you have some outpatient cover, you could review how much you need moving forward. This option isn’t appealing for many people, as they want continued outpatient cover, but did you know you can add cash limits to your policy, so for instance, the first £1,000 of outpatient treatment is covered, but nothing thereafter? This is a good way to strike a balance between staying on budget and still having some protection.
2. Opt for a higher policy excess
Probably the most straightforward solution to reduce the price of your health insurance is to increase your policy excess. While on the face of it this is simple and easy to do, we do always suggest caution in this respect, as no-one likes to be faced with a big bill when they are unwell.
3. Add a 6-week wait
You can add a 6-week NHS wait clause into the policy, which effectively says if the waiting list for the treatment you require is less than 6 weeks on the NHS, you will go down that route, rather than privately. It’s an effective way of reducing the cost of policies, but it does sacrifice your level of cover.
4. Have a local hospital list (good for those outside of London)
When you take out a policy, the hospital list will often cover a network of nationwide private hospitals. While on the face of it this is a good thing, if you live outside of London, you could potentially be paying for access to hospitals in the capital that you may never visit. It’s always worthwhile building a bespoke hospital list, and if your budget is tight, focussing on hospitals in your local area, as this will bring the cost of your policy down. Unfortunately, if you live in London, this method of cost reduction isn’t viable.
5. Always compare providers, especially at renewal time
Shopping around is hugely important and you’ll often find that you can save considerable amounts of money by switching providers at renewal time. It’s why we offer our free of charge Renewal Review service, where we do the leg work on your behalf each year and come back to you with the best options.
6. Try to give up smoking
If you’re a smoker, your premiums for health insurance and other insurances, such as life insurance, will be higher. By quitting smoking you will not only enjoy better health, but your insurance premiums for these products will reduce too.
7. Remove supplementary cover
There can sometimes be supplementary or optional cover that has been added to a policy which isn’t really needed. We recommend looking at your policy in detail to establish whether you actually need everything that has been included.
8. Review your underwriting method
The two main types of underwriting used for private medical insurance are Moratorium and Full Medical Underwriting, and changing the method used can sometimes yield a saving. A word of caution though, changing the underwriting method must be done with great care so as not to negatively affect your medical history.
9. Speak to an expert
Finally, to make sure you have the best policy for the best price, one that covers you for what you need but no more, you should speak to a qualified expert. Request a comparison quote below and we'll put you in touch with one of our high-rated brokers.
We hope you find this information useful; if you have any questions or would like full access to our research, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a final reminder, please take the information provided on this page as a guide only. While our research has been extensive, you’re always best to speak to a health insurance broker who can perform a detailed market review on your behalf. To request a free comparison quote from one of our recommended brokers, please click the button below.