What is family medical insurance?

Family medical insurance, often called family health insurance, is an annual insurance policy which will give you and your family access to private medical treatment in the UK, should you ever need it. With several levels of cover available from a variety of providers, it always pays to research the options and speak to an independent expert before buying a policy.

What is family private health care?

Family private health care is provided by a nationwide network of private hospitals and clinics, which, rather than being funded via the NHS, are privately financed, either via insurance or directly from the patient. While you don’t need medical insurance to access private health care, it can help keep costs down, especially if your treatment is for something complex like cancer.

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Benefits of family medical insurance:

  • Avoid NHS waiting lists - be seen and treated quicker.
  • Gain access to drugs and treatments which aren’t yet available on the NHS.
  • Receive a private room during a hospital stay, with much-relaxed visiting hours.
  • Be treated at a time and place of your choosing.
  • Have greater choice over the person that provides your treatment.

What does family medical insurance cover?

Family medical insurance will cover the cost of private medical treatment for acute medical conditions. Chronic conditions, meaning those that cannot be cured or will not respond to treatment, are not covered by family medical insurance. What is and isn’t covered will, of course, vary from policy to policy, but perhaps the biggest difference between coverage is how outpatient diagnosis and treatment is provided. 

What’s the difference between in and outpatient treatment?

Inpatient treatment is defined as a medical procedure where the use of a bed overnight is required. It could be that you need to be monitored overnight, or you’re staying in the hospital for several days - in both of those cases, you would be an inpatient

Outpatient treatment is where you do not require a bed in the hospital overnight; an example could be a hospital visit for some physiotherapy or some counselling. In both instances, you would be receiving treatment as an outpatient

If you carry out a health insurance comparison you’ll find that all policies, regardless of their price, will include inpatient cover as standard; it’s the baseline for all policies in the UK. One of the biggest variables in your quotes will be the level of outpatient cover you have, which won’t be included as standard in most basic policies. As your budget increases, you’ll start to see policies which include some or all outpatient diagnosis and treatments. Still, you may find that even the most comprehensive of policies don’t include cover for things such as psychiatric care or routine dental and optical care - these will be additional extras you’ll need to add to your policy. 

Levels of outpatient cover

As we’ve mentioned, there are several levels of outpatient cover you can choose to have, these include:

  1. No outpatient cover - a basic policy that will only include inpatient treatment. If you wanted to have certain outpatient tests or treatments you would need to self-pay for those.
  2. Outpatient cover up to a set cash value each year - a great option for those wanting to have some outpatient cover but without the cost of full protection.
  3. Full outpatient cover - have unlimited access to outpatient treatments and diagnosis throughout the life of your policy.

Choosing the level of outpatient cover you have on your family medical insurance will be one of the most important decisions you make. Remember, if you don’t have any outpatient cover, you will still need to be diagnosed through the NHS, before potentially receiving inpatient treatment privately. When we compare health insurance policies we always try and include some outpatient cover for this precise reason, and to help avoid you being stuck on an NHS waiting list.

Making family medical insurance affordable

If you’re interested in family medical insurance there are a number of things you can do to make the cost of a policy more affordable, such as:

  • Add an excess - adding an excess to your policy which you pay at the point of claim, is a good way to reduce the cost of your premium. Just be careful though not to make the excess too high, as the last thing you want when you or your family are unwell is a big bill.
  • Pick and choose - some policies will allow you to choose certain aspects of your cover, such as outpatient treatment and diagnosis. If you’re looking to reduce the cost of your family medical insurance, looking at your level of cover is always a good place to start.
  • Pay annually - paying annually for your policy will in most cases reduce the total amount due. This won’t apply with every insurer and policy but it is worth checking. 
  • Have a local hospital list - Assuming you’re not in London, you can save money by customising your hospital list to include only hospitals that are near to you. By removing expensive city-centre hospitals which you may never visit, your premiums should come down.
  • Add a 6-week NHS wait - adding a 6-week NHS wait is an effective way to reduce the cost of your policy, but it should be noted it will seriously impact your level of cover. We rarely recommend this option to people for that reason, but it is still an option nevertheless. 
  • Live a healthy lifestyle - some insurers such as Vitality will reward you with cheaper premiums if you stay active and lead a healthy lifestyle. 
  • Consider a health cash plan - these pay a lump sum towards your routine family healthcare costs.

Best family medical insurance providers

The top five providers of family private medical insurance in the UK are:

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