If you're over 50 and looking at health insurance for the first time, or your current policy is nearing renewal, and you're shopping around, this article is tailor-made for you. We explain how it works, how to get the best policy, and how to keep control of the costs.
Over-50s health insurance is no different to cover for a different age group. By paying a monthly premium, health insurance covers the cost of treatment in private hospitals and clinics around the UK. You can then enhance your policy by adding things like outpatient cover, therapies cover, dental cover and more.
Having health insurance means you can bypass NHS waiting lists and be seen and treated faster, but there are some exclusions you should be aware of, which we detail further in this guide.
At the time of writing, the NHS is suffering from excessive pressure, with waiting times at record levels and primary care services like GPs finding it to handle patient numbers. Truth be told, things were declining before the pandemic, and things have only got worse since. Yes, the NHS has released its Long Term Plan, with its core actions of Train, Retain and Reform, but, by their own admission, it will take time for the fruits of the plan to come to bear.
In June 2023, we conducted a poll, with the help of YouGov, where we asked 2,344 adults across the UK about their current feelings about healthcare provision. 1,130 of those were aged over 50, and here we summarise what they told us:
Question: How worried, if at all, are you about the current state of healthcare provision in the UK?
Question: What are your biggest worries with respect to healthcare in the UK? (Respondents were asked to choose three worries from a list of 15. Only the three most selected are shown here.
We also gave people the opportunity to tell us another worry that wasn't listed, with many citing the lack of NHS dentistry being a significant concern.
This survey, which is representative of adults in the UK, showed those over 50 were typically more worried about healthcare provision than those under 50. It also showed that waiting times for treatment, and access to GP services, were the biggest concerns, with dental care also a worry for some.
Here are the main reasons why someone 50 years or older might look at getting private health insurance:
The primary benefit of taking out health insurance, regardless of your age, is that it enables you to avoid NHS waiting lists and receive treatment sooner. By opting for a comprehensive policy with some level of outpatient cover, you'll also be able to have your tests, diagnostic scans and consultations done privately too.
The leading health insurance policies all come with 24/7 access to a virtual GP. You can arrange an appointment and speak with a qualified private GP over the phone or via a video call. While this service can only partially replace an in-person consultation, it's incredibly convenient and avoids unnecessary trips to urgent care centres and lengthy waiting times for NHS 111 services.
While it's not typically one of the headline benefits and an optional extra you'll need to pay a bit more for, cover for routine dental and optical appointments is a welcome benefit for most over 50s. Usually, this option will contribute a monetary amount, up to an annual limit, towards things like regular check-ups, glasses and more.
If you're admitted to a private hospital for surgery or another procedure, you'll have a private room, often with an ensuite bathroom. This much-needed privacy during a difficult time is always very welcome and appreciated. The other benefit of not being in a communal ward is that visiting times tend to be more relaxed, and you don't need to worry about your visitors disturbing others or vice versa.
Finally, private health insurance gives you much more flexibility over where you receive treatment and when. You can schedule it around other commitments and have it somewhere that suits you. You also have greater choice when it comes to who treats you.
In this section, we outline what you can typically expect your private medical insurance to cover. Please note that what is and isn't covered will depend on your choice when you take out a policy, what your insurer provides and your medical history.
Private medical insurance in the UK isn't meant to replace the NHS, and to try to keep premiums affordable, insurers exclude numerous things. Your personal exclusions will be based on the policy you opt for and your medical history, but these are the most common:
As you can see, private medical insurance coverage is good, but it doesn't cover everything, and there will still be a reliance on the NHS for specific services.
That said, private healthcare isn't restricted to those with health insurance, and if you have the means to pay out of your back pocket, there's no reason why you can't. Services like private GPs exist, so if you need to see someone quickly and have the money, look locally for one.
Our in-house experts regularly review the health insurance market, monitoring insurer performance and changes to policies and terms. We also monitor customer reviews, which are an excellent barometer of insurer performance. Here are our top five health insurance providers and policies for the over 50s.
Please note the best provider for you will be different to the next person, so please always request a free comparison quote, and an experienced broker will perform a market review on your behalf.
With their Flexible Health Premier and Elite, WPA is our expert's top pick for 2023. WPA operates a community-rated scheme, so individual claims don't affect renewal premiums. They also give you unrestricted consultant and specialist access and one of the best standard hospital lists in the market. Finally, they have outstanding reviews from their members, with a current score of 4.7 out of 5 on Trustpilot from over 2,200 reviews.
Click here to read our detailed review of WPA health insurance.
The Exeter, with its Health+ comprehensive policy, is a very close second in our expert's eyes. Arguably the most flexible policy in the market, you can choose between a traditional no-claims discount or a community rating and whether to have unrestricted consultant access or a guided policy for a discount on your health insurance premiums (not something WPA offers). They also have an outstanding reputation, with a Trustpilot score of 4.3 out of 5, from close to 700 reviews. Finally, they are one of the most competitive in the market from a price perspective, which is why they've seen many new clients join them recently.
Click here to read our detailed review of The Exeter health insurance.
Ok, we all have heard of Bupa, but how do they stack up? The answer is very well. Like the two companies mentioned above, Bupa is owned by its members, so it's free to invest profits back into the company to enhance the offering and reduce premiums. Uniquely to Bupa is their "Bupa Direct Access" service, which allows you to bypass your GP and go straight to them for suspected cancer. The only downside with Bupa is that they only offer a traditional no-claims discount scheme, so if you claim, it will likely affect your renewal premiums. Given Bupa's many members, their reviews are excellent, with an aggregate score of 4 out of 5 on Trustpilot from over 19,000 reviews.
Click here to read our detailed review of Bupa health insurance.
Brokers often describe vitality as a "niche" provider because they are a perfect fit for those who lead a healthy lifestyle. If that's you, you'll enjoy discounts, perks and other benefits; however, if you're more of a "take it easy with your feet up" kind of person, you may well find it becomes costly. Vitality offers excellent cover levels, and you have a lot of flexibility in configuring your policy. Currently, on Trustpilot, Vitality enjoys a 3.9 out of 5 rating based on everything they do, including life insurance and investments.
Click here to read our detailed review of Vitality heath insurance.
Axa Health and its flagship policy Personal Health is another top pick and well worth your consideration when you review your options with a broker: excellent cancer cover, a fantastic standard hospital list, and reasonable pricing. Axa Health currently has a Trustpilot rating of 4 out of 5 from over 7,300 reviews, which is again very good and shows that most customers are happy with their service.
Click here to read our detailed review of Axa Health health insurance.
The above summarises our more detailed article that compares the UK's eight leading insurers. To read that article now, click this link: Expert guide to the best private health insurance in the UK.
Health insurance costs vary dramatically based on age, location, cover level and insurer, so it's notoriously difficult to give average prices. That said, we regularly perform market reviews, getting hundreds of quotes from insurers so that we can monitor pricing and provide you with approximate figures.
January 2023 was the last time we updated our health insurance pricing research, and the results of it, specifically for the over 50s, are below.
Disclaimer: The prices provided below are examples based on fictional people around the UK. The price you pay will be different owing to numerous factors.
The prices below are for a health insurance policy with £1,000 of outpatient cover, a £250 excess, therapies cover and the provider's standard hospital list. We excluded mental health, dental, optical, and travel cover from the policy configuration. As some providers don't offer a "guided consultant" option, we show an average of both.
As you can see, the cost of a policy can vary significantly based on your age and location, with people living in cities such as London and Manchester paying the most, owing to higher medical treatment costs in those locations.
There are several ways you can reduce the cost of health insurance, not all of which will compromise your coverage. The easiest is to increase your excess, the amount you contribute towards claims. The higher that is, the lower your monthly premiums will be. Another option is to opt for a "guided consultant" list, where your insurer restricts you to a smaller pool of medical specialists and hospitals in return for a reduction of around 20% on your policy. Guided consultants can be a great way to access a comprehensive policy at a reduced cost.
Finally, you could reduce your level of cover by removing additional health insurance options, adding limits to your outpatient cover, or removing outpatient cover altogether.
In short, the best way to reduce the cost of your health insurance is to speak with a health insurance expert who can tailor your policy to meet your needs and budget.
Private health insurance is a reasonably complicated product, and there's more to learn about things like how underwriting affects your policy and whether a guided consultant list is a good option for you, for example.
Feel free to navigate our website to learn more, but if you'd like to speak with an expert and get their free advice and have them on hand to answer your questions, please request a comparison quote.
These guides are worth looking at if you're new to health insurance and want a better understanding before speaking with a broker.
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.
Health insurance excludes pre-existing medical conditions and usually anything related to them too. The typical exclusion duration for a new policy is five years, so anything you've suffered from or sought medical treatment or advice for in that time will be excluded. Most policies these days are written on a moratorium underwiring basis. If you take out a policy and go two years without experiencing symptoms of a previously excluded condition, it'll usually become covered.
If your medical history is complicated, we'd always recommend looking at full medical underwriting, where you share your medical records with the insurer at the outset, and they will tell you what is and isn't covered.
Usually, you would see or speak with a GP, either your NHS one or perhaps a virtual GP, and they would refer you for further investigations or treatment. At this point, you'd contact your insurer and seek pre-authorisation of the claim. They'll tell you what to do next and which consultants, specialists and hospitals you can access. You can then arrange your consultations knowing that the claim has been pre-authorised.
There are numerous ways you can reduce the cost of your policy, including:
As we say, the fastest way is to speak to a broker who can help you review all of the above and more.
With the NHS currently facing difficulties and no short-term solution in sight, health insurance has become very valuable to people, including those over 50. Yes, it's fairly expensive, but, you benefit from far faster medical care when you need it, and a host of other benefits.
Health insurance offers the same level of cover for people of all ages. However, it's often the case that people on the other side of 50 have had more medical conditions and, therefore, start with more exclusions on their policy. This is only sometimes the case, though, depending on your medical history.
Yes, many of the leading providers offer cover after your 70th birthday. It's pricey, but it's available.
If you're leaving a company scheme, speaking with a broker is a good idea. They can do a market review for you and see what is available for your budget.
Yes you can. Couples often take out policies together as while it doesn't have a huge bearing on the cost compared to two individual policies, there's less admin to do each year.
The standard of care in a private setting is often similar to that of the NHS, but the benefits are that you will be treated quicker and have a private room while in hospital. With the NHS being under extreme pressure at present, everything is taking longer, so by that measure, yes, private medical care is better.
Save up to 37%* on your insurance by comparing policies
*Based on 461 quotes between 01/22-01/23