How to get cheap medical insurance - May 2024

By
Kirsty France
Personal Finance and Healthcare Expert
Kirsty is a personal finance and healthcare expert who enjoys demystifying legal and insurance topics for a wider audience. She’s a former solicitor with a personal injury and insurance background.
Kirsty France
Reviewed by
Chris Steele
Founder and Editor
Cert CII (F1, IF7 & I10)
Chris is our resident private health insurance and healthcare expert. He has over a decade of experience writing about private medical insurance and treatment. He's Chartered Insurance Institute qualified and is regularly quoted by the national press.
Chris Steele
Reviewed by
Updated on
May 8, 2024

Private medical insurance provides many benefits. However, if you have a limited budget, you may wonder how to make it more affordable. Our guide to affordable health insurance will help you consider your options.

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What you need to know from a high level:

When you look at private health insurance, you'll get a choice between a basic plan or a more comprehensive one, with the latter typically costing a bit more; here's what you need to know about cheap health insurance:

  • Treatment-only plans cover in-patient and day-patient treatment in private hospitals and are typically much cheaper than a policy which includes out-patient cover. 
  • The best way to keep costs down is to compare policies and speak with a broker; they'll help you find the right plan for your budget.
  • There are numerous ways to reduce the cost of your health insurance, as we go on to explain.

How does private health insurance work?

Private health insurance lets you access private healthcare for treatments covered by your private health insurance policy. You start by choosing the health insurance policy that suits your needs, and you're covered as soon as you start paying the premium.

Every private medical insurance provider offers basic health insurance policies (also known as treatment-only health insurance), and you can tailor your coverage by adding optional extras.

Benefits of treatment-only health insurance

Treatment-only private health insurance provides access to private healthcare for serious conditions such as cancer or when you need hospital admission for surgery or other treatment. You'll be able to stay in a private room, and many private hospitals have hotel-style facilities, so you'll likely have an ensuite bathroom and restaurant-quality food.

Even the most basic health insurance policy gives you access to 24/7 virtual GP appointments, health advice helplines and membership discounts.

The disadvantages of treatment-only health insurance

One of the main disadvantages of a treatment-only health insurance policy is that it doesn't include out-patient cover. Out-patient cover is typically only available as an optional extra, so you'll pay more to have it.

Out-patient cover pays for diagnostic tests and consultant appointments. Without it, you'll need to get diagnostic tests via the NHS or pay for private consultations and tests out of your pocket, before being referred for private treatment. Current NHS waiting lists mean you could face a lengthy wait or high costs if you opt to pay for private consultations and tests.

What do treatment-only medical insurance plans cover?

Most insurers provide health insurance that covers the essentials. They offer cheaper premiums because they typically don't include additional benefits such as out-patient cover, meaning you're less likely to claim. For example, you're much more likely to need out-patient physiotherapy treatment or diagnostic procedures than you are to require a hospital stay.

Here's what you can expect to find on treatment-only health insurance policies.

In-patient care

In-patient care is any treatment that requires hospital admission. So, if you need a hip or knee replacement, your accommodation and surgery costs will be covered. Your health insurance will likely also cover some post-operative rehabilitation.

This health insurance cover also includes day-patient treatment, which typically involves a procedure that doesn't require a night in the hospital but may involve a longer recovery time than out-patient treatment.

Cancer cover

As 50% of us will face a cancer diagnosis at some point, cancer cover forms an essential part of most health insurance policies. Basic cancer cover includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Some insurers offer a broader range of treatments and services in their treatment-only health insurance cover. These could include cutting-edge treatments and drugs or support services such as nutritional advice.

It's worth getting quotes from various providers to find more extensive coverage for your monthly premiums.

Mental health cover

A basic private health insurance policy typically offers some mental health support, although this varies between different providers. Most include access t counselling sessions and provide self-help resources online. Some insurers offer dedicated mental health telephone helplines.

In addition, some insurers cover inpatient mental health treatment, while others only offer this with a comprehensive policy. The number of mental health conditions private health insurance providers cover also varies.

What don't private health insurance policies cover?

Private health insurance covers acute conditions that will respond to a course of treatment that arose after you bought the policy. Every private health insurance policy has exclusions. Some are standard exclusions, while others relate to your medical history.

You can't claim private healthcare for a chronic illness such as asthma or diabetes, as your GP needs to monitor these conditions long-term. Most health insurance excludes cosmetic treatments, emergency treatment, and straightforward pregnancy and birth.

Any pre-existing medical conditions that required treatment or your suffered from in the five years before you bought the policy are also excluded for the first two years of the policy but can be added later if you stay symptom-free.

Are there any alternatives?

If you want private healthcare, you don't always need private health insurance to access it. There are also other ways to save money on your regular health expenses. Self-insurance offers an affordable alternative to private health insurance. Alternatively, investing in a cash plan can provide cashback on your NHS and personal healthcare expenses.

Self-insurance

When you choose self-insurance, you don't pay monthly premiums for private health insurance. Instead, you create a savings account and set aside a monthly fixed sum to pay for private healthcare when needed. Self-insurance works well for surgery that typically has a fixed cost. However, if you have a family history of cancer, you may be better off with cancer cover, as costs can be unpredictable.

Find out more about self-insurance here.

Cash plans

Cash plans differ from private medical insurance as they are typically designed to cover predictable and routiune healthcare costs, rather than unpredictable, unexpected illnesses. For example, you may pay £20 per month for a plan that covers your routine dental, optical and even phsyiotherapy costs.

Read our guide to the best health cash plans.

Image of father teaching his son cycling at park, words on image read: "How to save money on health insurance".

How to save money on health insurance

Whether you choose a treatment-only plan or comprehensive health insurance, there are ways to save money on your private health insurance cover. These options can reduce your monthly premium and leave some room in your budget to add out-patient cover or other optional extras.

1. Shop around

Generally speaking, you can find average prices for health insurance based on your age and location. However, insurers differ in how they assess risk, meaning quotes can vary between providers. Getting a range of health insurance quotes lets you determine what each policy offers to get the best deal for your budget.

Speaking to a specialist health insurance broker gives you tailored advice based on your personal circumstances.

2. Tailor your policy carefully

You can tailor your health insurance to meet your needs. Some insurers offer packaged policies, while others let you adjust your coverage more flexibly. That means you can invest your budget where it's needed most. We recommend you seek professional guidance from a broker to ensure you have essential coverage in place.

3. Choose full medical underwriting

As we've mentioned, pre-existing conditions are excluded from cover for the first two years of your policy and can be added later if you stay symptom-free. If your policy has moratorium underwriting, your insurers won't ask for any medical information when you buy but will check whether your treatment is covered or excluded when you claim.

With full medical underwriting, you provide details about your medical history when you buy private medical insurance. It gives you more certainty about what's covered and can be cheaper.

4. Choose a higher excess

A private medical insurance excess works like car insurance. You pay the excess amount yourself, and your insurer pays the rest. Increasing your excess reduces your premium. However, you must choose an affordable amount. Otherwise, it could discourage you from using your private medical insurance altogether.

5. Stick to the standard hospital list

Treatment-only health insurance includes access to your insurer's standard hospital list, setting out the private hospitals your policy covers so you can choose where to go for treatment. Extended lists typically cover hospitals in central London or major cities, where private treatment costs are higher, so you pay an increased premium to access them.

You can also tailor your hospital choice to remove higher-cost hospitals and reduce your premiums further.

6. Guided consultant choice

If you want to choose which consultant you see, your health insurance will likely offer this option. The only limit is that your chosen consultant must provide treatment at a hospital your health insurance covers. However, many consultants may provide the treatment you need, and you might not want to spend time researching all the options.

If you're happy to take your insurers' recommendation, consider guided consultant choice. Your insurer suggests 3-5 names, and you choose your preferred consultant. The consultants are all fully qualified but offer fixed prices, so you'll pay less for your health insurance.

7. Add a six-week wait option

When you add a six-week wait option, your health insurance only pays for treatment if you'll wait more than six weeks for NHS treatment. With NHS waiting lists as they are, any elective care will likely be covered. However, it can create problems if you receive emergency NHS care, as your health insurance won't cover any follow-up treatment. For example, if you break a bone and have the fracture set in A&E, you might still need surgery. Usually, you can request a referral to use your health insurance to fund the surgery. However, with a six-week wait option, you won't be eligible.

Best cheap private health insurance policies in 2024

Our private healthcare experts regularly review the market and have put together this list of the best cheap health insurance providers in 2024. Please note, this list is alphabetical, and we'd recommend you compare policies and speak with a broker before making a decision.

Aviva Logo

Aviva

Aviva's treatment-only policy provides everything you'd expect, plus a few things you wouldn't. Their basic policy includes out-patient cover for consultant appointments and diagnostic tests so you can get a private diagnosis. They'll also cover physiotherapy, chiropractic treatment and osteopathy on referral from your consultant. Additional services include a digital GP service, a stress helpline and member discounts.

Their policy offers money-saving options, including a six-week wait, guided consultants and a choice of hospital lists. You can also opt to reduce your out-patient cover if necessary.

Axa Health Logo

Axa

Axa health insurance offers an affordable treatment-only policy that includes inpatient treatment and services, including online and telephone GP appointments 24/7, and health information online. They're worth considering if you want family health insurance, as their policies have options such as speech therapy for children, which most insurers don't cover.

Their cancer coverage won't cover you if you've had cancer in the past. Instead, they offer an NHS cancer support package that can pay for additional drugs if your consultant recommends them.

Bupa logo

Bupa

Bupa's Treatment and Care policy goes further than many treatment-only policies. It doesn't cover your initial diagnosis. However, once you're diagnosed, it'll pay for inpatient and out-patient care, including follow-up diagnostic tests and scans. You can tailor the level of coverage for cancer care and out-patient treatment to suit your needs and budget.

The policy also includes access to a helpline for 24/7 medical advice and a cash benefit when you receive treatment via the NHS.

The Exeter Logo

The Exeter

The Exeter's Health+ policy lets you tailor your coverage with options including guided consultant choice. You'll benefit from comprehensive cancer coverage, unlimited inpatient and day-patient treatment and up to three months of physiotherapy after you come home from the hospital.

There's a cashback plan and access to the Healthwise app. You can use this to book virtual GP appointments and other services depending on your chosen plan.

Vitality logo

Vitality

Vitality health insurance is great if you have a healthy lifestyle, as it can help you save money on your premiums and earn additional member benefits and discounts. Their treatment-only policy includes advanced cancer cover as standard. You're also covered for inpatient treatment, up to six physiotherapy sessions and up to eight counselling sessions.

The policy includes a cashback plan and video GP appointments. Their menopause support service provides tailored advice, including virtual support via the Peppy app.

WPA Logo

WPA

WPA's flagship policy is Complete Health, which aims to offer a policy you can tailor closely to your needs. Their core coverage includes inpatient treatment, an NHS cash benefit, access to virtual GP appointments, a health helpline and counselling for over 16s. Unusually, they also provide limited out-patient cover, including some out-patient procedures, complex scans and up to £250 towards consultant appointments. However, you'll need to pay more for diagnostic testing and X-rays.

Typical costs for treatment-only health insurance

In April 2024, our private healthcare experts obtained prices for a typical treatment-only health insurance policy from numerous leading providers. The table below shows the average prices we received for a new policy.

How much does cheap private medical insurance cost? Average prices gathered in April 2024.
Age Monthly Premium
20-years-old £23.14
30-years-old £29.42
40-years-old £35.85
50-years-old £47.50
60-years-old £71.32
70-years-old £113.50

* Based on a non-smoker living in Oxford with a maximum excessof £250. Quotes are an average of prices from five leading insurers on 15th April 2024, and precise cover levels will vary. 

Disclaimer: These prices are mere examples for informational purposes. Theprice you pay for your policy will differ based on your age, postcode and coverselections. All quotes obtained include cancer cover using new moratoriumunderwriting.

Getting professional advice

Speaking to a specialist broker provides tailored advice to help you find the best health insurance for your needs and budget. A broker can help you source and compare health insurance quotes to make an informed choice. Contact us for a comparison quote, and we'll put you in touch with a regulated broker for advice.

Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.

This article was written by:
Kirsty France
Personal Finance and Healthcare Expert

Kirsty is a personal finance and healthcare expert who enjoys demystifying legal and insurance topics for a wider audience. She’s a former solicitor with a personal injury and insurance background.

Article reviewed by
Chris Steele
on
15th April 2024

Frequently Asked Questions

What's a treatment-only plan?

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A treatment-only health insurance plan covers the basics, such as inpatient treatment if you need to be admitted to a hospital or have surgery. It can also provide cancer coverage and mental health support. It can also let you access other services like digital GP appointments.

Can underwriting help me get cheaper health insurance?

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You can save money on your premiums by giving your insurance provider details of your medical history when you take out the policy. They can confirm whether they're excluding any pre-existing medical conditions from coverage so you'll know what's covered, and it can save you money on your premium.

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