We've combined the latest independent ratings and reviews to create a list of the best health insurance policies of 2016.
You can compare quotes and cover from these companies using Activequote.com. Activequote also offers free, regulated advice over the phone.
- APRIL UK - Foundation Cover (plus all other levels)
- Health-on-Line - Health for You
- Saga - Health Plan Super / Super 4
- Permanent Health Company - Healthcover4life Plan 1 and Plan 2
- WPA - Flexible Health - Elite
- Freedom Health Insurance - Elite (individual and family)
- CS Healthcare - Your Choice
- The Exeter - Health Cover for ME
- General and Medical - Altus Elite
- Aviva - Healthier Solutions
You can get a quote for these providers and compare prices using Activequote.com.
Learn more about the providers with our health insurance reviews further down this article.
How we created this list
We combined customer ratings from Reviewcentre.com with an independent financial researcher's rating of the quality and comprehensiveness of the policies. Reviewcentre.com reviews are written by people who have bought with that insurer and experienced their customer service. Data gathered on 31st December 2015.
Where are BUPA, AXA and Vitality?
Surprisingly, the three largest health insurers BUPA, AXA and Vitality do not make the top ten (although Health-on-Line are part of the AXA Group) but we cover them in more detail in our reviews below. The smaller providers in the top 10 appear to be competing by offering a similar range of policies to the big companies, but with a focus on customer service.
This is a helpful reminder not to rely just on brand when choosing health insurance but to research the help they offer. Using a health insurance comparison site like Activequote.com can save hours of shopping around; their site allows you to filter policies by price, features and even get free professional advice over the phone while you're using the site to help you choose.
Use these links to skip directly to the relevant sections
- How to choose the best health insurance
- Health Insurance Reviews
- Vitality Health Insurance Review
- BUPA Health Insurance Review
- AXA PPP Health Insurance Review
- Aviva Health Insurance Review
- APRIL Health Insurance Review
- Health-on-Line Insurance Review
- Saga Health Insurance Review
- Permanent Health Company Insurance Review
- WPA Health Insurance Review
- Freedom Health Insurance Review
- CS Healthcare Insurance Review
- The Exeter Health Insurance Review
- General and Medical Health Insurance Review
- HMCA Review
- Health insurance explored
- The Top 5 Health Insurance Companies in the UK
Choosing the best health insurance
Health insurance can be one of the most important insurance purchases an individual or family makes – the convenience and security health cover provides can be critical.
He is going to refer me to a orthopedic surgeon so that it can all be checked out properly. Thank you private medical insurance!— Stacey (@acartoonheart) November 21, 2012
People buy health insurance for a variety of reasons (see "Is Health Insurance Worth Having?") and the private medical insurance market is growing in the UK so new products and health insurance companies are emerging, adding to the bewildering array of options.
You can easily compare prices using a comparison site (Activequote.com is a specialist health and life insurance comparison site) but it pays to understand the details of the companies and policies that those prices represent.
The first part of our guide reviews each of the top health insurance policies and companies in the UK, as defined by our top 10 plus the biggest names that didn't make the list.
Health Insurance Reviews
Find out the important information about the UK's best health insurance firms.
Vitality Health Insurance Review
Vitality have a unique offering in the UK Health Insurance market. Their company combines its healthcare offer with a set of discounts and rewards for healthy activities. Vitality's thinking is that if you are healthier, then you’ll claim less and in turn they can then charge you less too. The headline offer is 50% off a Virgin Active gym membership.
It uses technology such as wearables and logging when you go to the gym to monitor your healthy activity.
Vitality’s health insurance compares well with the best in the market. Independent financial researcher Defaqto gives Vitality's Personal Healthcare policy its top 5 Star ranking. Aviva, Axa, Permanent Health Cover and Saga are the only other providers to receive 5 Stars. A 5 Star policy is "n excellent product with a comprehensive range of features and benefits".
The Vitality product starts with Core Cover, which offers in- and day-patient treatments, gives “full cancer cover” (see their terms and conditions for more), covers MRI, CT and PET scans and pregnancy complications.
Rather than having set cover levels to choose from, Vitality allow you to tailor your cover to your needs. You can set cover from fully covered to no cover for several categories of treatment such as out-patient treatment, diagnostics, psychiatric, dental and even travel insurance. Remember that while decreasing these would lower your premium, it also means your cover will be reduced.
Vitality's health and leisure rewards and discounts are unique features of the policy. They are intended to help customers understand their health, take part in healthy activities and be rewarded for them.
Vitality customers have access to health checks and get 50% reductions on medical screening tests with selected providers.
To help customers engage with their health they get cashback and discounts with health brands and shops. For example, 50% off Virgin Active monthly gym fees, 50% cashback on bikes at Evans Cycles or 50% off Sweatshop sports shoes.
Rewards include further discounts that help you to relax and unwind, including discounted BA flights, reduced Eurostar travel, money off boutique hotel stays with Mr and Mrs Smith and up to 75% off Champneys spa stays. Additionally, with enough steps logged, your activity can earn you a free cinema ticket and a Starbucks Coffee each week.
You can get an online health insurance quote from Vitality via their website and over the phone. Don't forget if you join through Bought By Many you can receive a £50 voucher.
To see if they are right for you, compare Vitality policies versus the market at Activequote.com.
For more in-depth information, you can also read our full Vitality Health Insurance review.
Bupa Health Insurance Review
BUPA sell the most health insurance in the UK every year. They’ve boiled down their range to two levels of cover.
‘Comprehensive’ is the top level and provides cover for getting diagnosed (including consultations, PET, MRI and CT scans plus other diagnostic tests) as well as getting treated (including hospital and out-patient treatments as well as mental health therapies).
Bupa’s policies have fewer options to choose from compared with other providers, asking you only to decide on what levels of out-patient and cancer cover you want, as well as the excess level you are comfortable with.
BUPA's, market-leading position includes ownership of hospitals, care homes and dental practices so you’d hope they understand customers’ health needs and how to treat them well.
With 2.7m customers (December 2012) there’s a variety of experiences that can be found in customer review sites, but Twitter suggests some are very positive:
@BupaUK Thank you! You have all been so helpful & reassuring.— Elizabeth Evenden (@codexhistoria) February 17, 2015
However, on Reviewcentre.com it scores 1.4 out of 5 from 114 reviews.
You can see how they compare with other providers using the Activequote.com comparison site.
For more in-depth information, you can also read our full BUPA Health Insurance review.
AXA Health Insurance Review
AXA are the second-largest provider in the UK and are Bupa's main competitor.
Its Health Select policy offers 9 options that can be selected to enhance the basic cover.
The add-ons include out-patient, therapies, mental health, ‘extra care’ (which includes cover for home care, chiropody and oral surgery), dentist and optician cashback, extra cancer care and travel Insurance for medical cover when you are outside the UK.
The eagle-eyed will note that is only seven add-on packages – the other two variables that affect your cover and price with AXA are the level of excess you choose (£0, £100, £250 or £500) and whether or not you opt for their ‘6-week rule’.
This 6-week rule is intended to allow you to get access to private treatment when NHS waiting times are long, but avoid the costs of being covered when the NHS waiting list is short. If you opt for the 6-week rule, you are agreeing that if the NHS can treat you within 6 weeks, you must take that route and private treatment is not covered. If the NHS waiting list is longer than 6 weeks, then you’re covered as usual.
Your premium is reduced to reflect the fact that you’ll be taking NHS treatment in some cases where you otherwise would have been treated privately (it works similarly to Saga's 4-week - AXA are Saga's health insurance underwriter so it is no surprise to see some similarity in their products).
Defaqto gives AXA's Personal Health policy a 5 Star ranking.
@officialroycey thank you for tweeting us, we're
pleased to have helped.— AXA PPP healthcare (@AXAPPPhealth) February 13, 2015
On Reviewcentre.com it scores 1.4 out of 5 from 152 reviews.
AXA allow you to get online health insurance quotes and you can compare their policies with others in the market using Activequote.com.
For more in-depth information, you can also read our full AXA Health Insurance review.
Aviva Health Insurance Review
Aviva is one of the UK’s largest insurance companies and deals with almost every type of insurance.
It only offers one policy level – Healthier Solutions – which can be tailored through a series of optional add-ons.
Aviva highlights the importance of getting the balance right between paying less and having enough cover. It is important to consider the cover you are getting as well as the price and customer service levels.
Aviva's has a range of options to help keep costs down. Their 6-week wait option kicks in when treatment on the NHS is not possible within 6 weeks (similar to AXA and Saga's policies) - helpful if you're happy to go with NHS service but have private medical insurance as a 'backup' when waiting lists are long.
Aviva offers a choice of excess (the amount of a claim you pay yourself before your cover kicks in) so you can reduce your premium heavily if opting for the £5,000 option. Of course, this means you will be responsible for the first £5,000 of costs each year, so even some significant treatments and expenses would not be covered.
Finally, a choice of hospitals can be helpful if you have and are happy with local options that cost less.
Bear in mind that using all of these options, whilst reducing your premium heavily, would lead to cover that only kicks in at certain hospitals, when costs are over £5,000 and if treatment isn't available on the NHS!
If you are seeking more cover (and consequently a higher premium), Aviva offer similar options compared with other companies in the form of psychiatric treatment cover, dental and optical cover and therapies cover. Aviva also allow you to protect your no claims discount (when you've earned it!) and extend the list of UK hospitals you can use if you wish.
As with other providers, it has a 5 Star Defaqto rating.
Once you have a rough idea of the covers you'd like, make sure you check their terms and conditions to ensure you are getting what you expect. Remember that the Defaqto rating refers to the extent of cover but not to the level of customer service or price. Checking customer reviews and using a comparison service may help.
Aviva give private health insurance online quotes through their own website and over the phone. You can also compare their policies against the rest of the UK market using Activequote.com.
For more in-depth information, you can also read our full Aviva Health Insurance review.
APRIL UK Health Insurance Review
APRIL UK are a newer provider, established in 1997. However new doesn't mean small, as they are part of the APRIL Group - an insurance company that operates globally and serves 6 million customers across 34 countries.
APRIL UK came top of our list of the best health insurers as a result of their overwhelmingly positive customer reviews. APRIL UK's site also lists 5 customer service awards from 2012 to 2014.
They go to some length on their site to lay out their customer charter and make service promises such as "your call will be answered within 3 rings". The reviews suggest this customer service focus is having positive results. On Reviewcentre.com it scores 4.7 out of 5 from 38 reviews.
A unique policy is APRIL's inSpire Private Medical Insurance Plan. APRIL have teamed up with Spire Healthcare to provide a policy that only covers you for treatment in Spire hospitals. This may seem limiting, but the result is that premiums are much lower, so if one of Spire's 38 UK hospitals are near you it could be a cost-effective solution.
Separately, APRIL UK offer a standard Private Medical Insurance policy which comes in 3 levels of core cover - Foundation Cover, Foundation Cover + Limited Out-patient and Foundation Cover + Full out-patient.
Foundation Cover provides for in-patient and day-patient care, prescribed drugs and dressings, hospital accommodation, radio- and chemotherapy, plus consultations and other in-patient expenses.
As the names suggest, the next two levels of cover provide for Out-patient cost in addition. Limited Out-Patient adds on £500 of out-patient consultations, pathology, x-rays, diagnostic tests and physiotherapy as well as paying in full for MRI, CT and PET scans. Full Out-Patient cover removes the £500 limit and pays in full (though physiotherapy is still limited to £500 per year).
Both policies offer extensive Cancer Cover, covering all costs in full with few exceptions (namely £10,000 for Palliative Treatment, up to £100 for wigs and up to £5,000 for external prostheses, all limits for the lifetime of the policy).
APRIL UK then offer add-ons that can extend your core cover, depending on your needs.
Option 1 allows you to include cover for alternative treatments like acupuncture, chiropractic care or homeopathy. Option 2 provides a cash benefits scheme to provide cash payments to you in certain medical circumstances (e.g. £25 per night you are in hospital to help with parking charges and so on, or £150 maternity cash per child born to pay for basics like a taxi home or an emergency child-minder if it is not your first). Option 3 provides cover for Psychiatric care and Option 4 allows you to adjust the hospitals you are allowed to use.
It is worth noting that all of APRIL UK's policies are rated 3 Star by Defaqto making them "a standard product providing an average level of features and benefits", apart from inSpire, which is rated 2 Star.
You can get private health insurance quotes online from APRIL UK's website. Or you can compare APRIL UK quotes and features versus others on the market using Activequote.com.
Alternatively you can read more in our in-depth APRIL UK Health Insurance Review.
Health-On-Line Insurance Review
Similar to APRIL, Health-On-Line are a newer insurance company, founded in 2000 with the aim of bringing a fresh and new approach to health insurance.
Since then they have grown rapidly (they paid out over £800m in claims in 2013) and are part of the AXA Group. In fact, the companies are closely integrated - Health-on-Line's sales people can advise you and sell you both a Health-on-Line policy or an AXA policy.
We have negotiated up to 20% off Health-On-Line policies for our members, you can join our group for free.
Health-On-Line aim to give you control over your cover, offering you modules and choices to tailor it to your needs. They put an emphasis on making health insurance easier and more accessible for people, for example, by aiming to minimise any jargon they use.
They also focus on customer service - when you have an enquiry you are handed back to the same person who sold you your policy so that you are always in touch with the same person.
They call this their Dedicated Account Manager service. Their relationship with AXA means that AXA underwrite all of Health-On-Line's policies, giving extra security and comfort behind the newer brand.
Health-On-Line's Health For You policy has a 4 Star Defaqto rating and is the top health insurer on Reviewcentre.com with a score of 3.5 out of 5 from 195 reviews.
Heath-On-Line offer 4 main types of cover.
The first is Heart & Cancer Cover, a specialist Private Medical Insurance policy that focuses only on heart conditions, cancer and strokes. They also offer a Priority Diagnostics policy, which helps customers who want to have the speed and choice of private care during diagnosis by giving access to specialist scans and tests. Health For You is their entry level Private Medical Insurance policy - it covers heart and cancer care but also in-patient treatment for a range of other conditions or treatments. Finally Health-on-Line also offer Personal Health, which is the AXA PMI policy (see our AXA review).
Health-on-Line also offer you options to balance your cover with the overall premium.
Their modules include cover options for out-patient treatments, therapies, mental health, dental and optician cashback as well as worldwide travel cover.
They also allow you to reduce your cover in several ways to keep the policy within your budget. You can remove the private cancer cover, instead choosing to rely on the NHS, you can add an excess to your policy up to £5,000 and you can choose their 6-week wait option, which means your private medical insurance will only kick in if the NHS is unable to treat you within 6 weeks (making it a useful safety net for times when the NHS waiting lists are too long).
You can learn more in our in-depth Health-on-Line health insurance review. Alternatively, join Bought By Many to access our members-only offer of up to 20% discount on health insurance from Health-on-Line.
Saga Health Insurance Review
Saga's offer is aimed at over 50s and they have a range of health insurance products.
Their Super policy is their top-of-the-range product, covering both in-patient and out-patient treatment as well as diagnostic procedures.
For a number of categories - such as surgeon's fees, hospital fees, cancer treatments and diagnostic tests - there is no limit on the amount that can be claimed any year. However, there are limits placed on alternative treatments such as Homeopathy or Acupuncturists (£1,500 per year), psychiatric treatment (£1,500 per year) and dental surgery (cash benefit of £1,500 - see our Dental Cover section below).
You can get a quote at the Saga website.
Saga provide a number of options that allow you to flex the policy to reduce cover and lower your premium, or pay more to get greater cover. This includes their Extended Cancer Cover, varying levels of Excess and cover for Hypertension.
A unique feature of Saga is its “4-week wait option”. This option reduces the premium, but in return the policyholder has to accept NHS treatment if it is available within 4 weeks of the date of diagnosis.
This is intended to provide a cost-effective method to get the advantages of rapid treatment when you need it, but avoid paying extra when you don’t. The full terms and conditions of these options can be seen on Saga's site.
Saga health insurance's underwriter is AXA PPP. This set-up combines AXA's underwriting knowledge with Saga's focus on the over 50's market, with the intention of creating a product as a 'best buy' for the over 50s.
You learn more about its products on Saga's site.
Saga aren’t on comparison engines but it is always worth shopping around - you can compare a range of other health insurance policies using Activequote.com.
Activequote allows you to filter by pricing and cover to see how they stack up vs Saga's own offering.
Permanent Health Company Review
Perhaps less well-known than the other names in this list, the Permanent Health Company has been offering UK Private Medical Insurance since 1994.
In addition, their policies are underwritten by AXA PPP, so while you might not recognise the name you are buying from, a big-name company is involved behind the scenes.
The Permanent Health Company’s intent has been to offer a simple product to cut through the complexity of the UK Health insurance market.
There are 4 policy levels and their top levels of cover – Plan 1 and Plan 2 – both score 5 Stars on Defaqto.
Both provide extensive cover for in- and out-patient treatments, diagnostics, chemo and radiotherapies. However Plan 1 offers greater cover than Plan 2 on certain out-patient treatments – for example, Plan 1 covers 20 physiotherapy sessions per year without a limit, whereas Plan 2 only covers £750.
The same is true for Complementary medicine (defined as chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy & acupuncture). Plan 1 also offers higher cash benefits if you choose to have treatment in an NHS hospital rather than going private (£200 per night with a max of £6,000 as opposed to £100 per night with a max of £2,000).
The Permanent Health Company sell directly through their own website and over the phone.
Remember that the 5 Star Defaqto rating refers to the extent of cover they offer, but not to the degree of customer service (check customer reviews if you are concerned) or price.
You can also compare their policies and prices versus the market to find your own 'best buy' using activequote.com.
For more in-depth information, you can also read our full PHC Health Insurance review.
WPA Health Insurance Review
Western Provident Association has three 4 Star products. Read our WPA Health Insurance review for more information.
Freedom Health Insurance Review
Freedom health insurance also gained 4 Stars from Defaqto for their Elite (individual and family) policy and had good feedback from customers, albeit from a small volume of reviews.
Freedom offer a unique feature in their Your Choice policy - it allows you to choose cover for a similar range of conditions and treatments to most other health insurance policies, however, it pays out differently.
The usual process at most health insurers is that you get a claim approved, go to a medical facility for some sort of treatment and then pass the bill on to your health insurer who cover.
Freedom instead give you cash - the amount depends on the claim you have made and they leave it up to you how you will spend the money. This allows you to choose your hospital and specialists with freedom - you could even choose to use the money to travel abroad for the required treatment. You can even choose to keep the money and use the NHS.
This degree of choice can be very attractive but the downside is that unlike other health insurers, they won't pick up the bill if it exceeds the cash amount you are paid up front. So if your condition turns out to be very complicated, you may find the cash is insufficient (though Freedom aim to provide amounts that are suited to each treatment).
You can read more in our in-depth Freedom Health Insurance review.
CS Healthcare Insurance Review
A provider aimed at the Civil Service and voluntary or charitable workers. Their Your Choice policy received 4 Stars from Defaqto. Read our CS Healthcare health insurance review for more.
A mutual health insurer also with one 4 Star product, their Health Cover For Me policy. Read our Exeter health insurance review for more.
General & Medical Health Insurance Review
Originally the supplier of health insurance for the medical profession, both their Altus Elite and Altus Plus products achieve 4 Stars from Defaqto, although they have a wider range of 8 policy levels with additional options for in-patient psychiatric treatment and worldwide travel that should mean you find the policy to suit your own needs.
In addition, they also provide a unique option that allows you to get some cover for a pre-existing condition (which almost all medical insurers exclude), including diabetes and hypertension.
The policy starts out with a low limit on claims relating to the condition in the first year, which increases every year you are claim free. This can be attractive for people with pre-existing conditions that are now under control.
Learn more about getting health insurance for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
General and Medical also run a range of specialised private health insurance policies for sports people and are providers of health insurance for some large and well-known associations around the country such as the London Taxi Drivers' Association.
You can read more in our in-depth General and Medical Health Insurance review.
Alternatively you can compare all of these providers using Activequote.com's price and feature comparison service.
HMCA (Hospital & Medical Care Association) review
HMCA offers a range of health and other insurance plans for members of trade, professional and membership groups. Its health cover is arranged through The Care Insurance Company Ltd, Gibraltar.
It is not as well-known as other private medical insurers and it's fair to say its website and quote form feel behind the times compared with some other providers.
However, there is no excess or no age restrictions on any of its three medical care plans. Some things are excluded from its cover, such as emergency admissions to A&E, radiotherapy or chemotherapy and management of long-term illnesses, although its plans do pay cash grants towards radiotherapy or chemotherapy and for each night spent as an NHS patient.
To get a quote you'll need to fill in an online form and they'll get in touch with you to discuss your options.
It lists cover limits for its most comprehensive policy, The Medical Care Plan, here. Some cover limits look lower than other providers like April and Health-on-Line, who will pay for some treatments in full. However, HMCA's limits may be suitable for some people and their prices may be lower.
It also offers cash plans, dental cover and income protection.
Common Health Insurance Questions and Topics
The different types of Health Insurance in the UK, & how much they cost
Health insurance / Private Medical Insurance - In the UK health insurance is also called private medical insurance.
These policies can provide cover for different kinds of medical diagnosis and treatment both in hospital and as an out-patient.
The degree of cover varies depending on the policy and company chosen, but they are typically the most comprehensive type of cover compared with the other options below.
With the rising costs of healthcare, these policies can also be the most expensive – someone in their early thirties might pay £25-£40 per month, while someone in their 40's can easily pay upwards of £40 per month. Prices tend to rise the older the individual and the more extensive the cover.
Cancer cover - for some individuals private health insurance may be unaffordable, but the concerns of suffering an extreme illness such as cancer still exist.
Insurers have therefore created ‘cancer cover’ products - AXA PPP’s example is the Cancer CashCover plan, which pays a lump sum (up to £60,000) if you are diagnosed with cancer.
That money is then yours to spend as you wish – perhaps to help cope with the drop in income or increased expenses that may occur due to your illness. This particular policy also provides access to dedicated Cancer Nurses for support and will pay for approved cancer drugs if they are prescribed to you but are not available on the NHS.
The advantage of these policies is that they work out cheaper than private medical cover – a 30-year-old non-smoker can pay from £9.99 per month for the maximum £60,000 cover.
Take care to read the terms and conditions to be sure the definition of 'being diagnosed' with a condition is clear, as this is the main factor in deciding if and when the policy would pay out.
Cash Plans - another common type of UK health cover is the Cash Plan. This is intended for the less expensive but regular health costs you might incur – for example with opticians, chiropodists and physiotherapists. As a result, it is important to see it separately from health insurance or private medical cover itself.
Many cash plans operate as a percentage cashback scheme, meaning they only pay a percentage (often 50% or 75%) of the costs incurred rather than the full amount.
People have sometimes viewed this as health insurance that pays half the cost, but a critical difference for a cash plan is the amount that you can claim.
Cash plans typically limit you to claiming £50-£400 a year for each of the categories of treatment, depending on the precise policy you choose, whereas a full Health Insurance policy may have a higher limit or might not limit payments at all.
As such the cash plan policies are cheaper – MoneySavingExpert.com quoted cover from £14 per month in December 2014. However, it is worth weighing this up versus the fact that cover limits are lower and more notably, major hospital treatments are not covered at all as they would be with a full health insurance policy.
How much does Private Medical Insurance cost?
The risks of a person needing medical treatment vary depending on their own personal circumstance. For example, an older person who has smoked all their life is more likely to require medical treatment than a younger non-smoker.
Health insurers take these personal circumstances into account when they calculate your premium and give you a quote for health insurance.
We investigated how health insurance cost can vary in detail in our article What does private health insurance cost?.
You can get online health insurance quotes that allow you to see this working in practice - most health insurers will ask you for your age (or date of birth) plus postcode and maybe a small number of other factors. Combined with the cover you are choosing, this gives you a price.
This means it is hard to give a specific 'cost' of private health insurance as a young person in a cheaper postcode can pay under £20 a month with limited cover, whereas an older person in central London requiring comprehensive cover can easily be paying over £100 a month.
You can compare health online insurance quotes for your own circumstances from multiple providers in minutes using Activequote.com, a specialist price comparison site for health insurance. You can even use it to get free professional advice over the phone.
Private Health Insurance & Pre-existing conditions
As a rule, pre-existing conditions aren’t covered by health insurers. Exactly how these conditions are treated will depend on the terms of the insurer and the underwriting method you choose when taking out your policy.
We've writen an in-depth piece on the options for peple with pre-existing medical conditions.
Pre-existing conditions are something older people might need to take into account. We've also a written a guide to health insurance for older people.
Each insurer will have a set of conditions that are simply not covered (whether pre-existing or not).
These will typically include chronic conditions (i.e. long-term conditions that require ongoing treatment and monitoring) such as diabetes and hypertension, but also include procedures such as cosmetic surgery that are deemed to be ‘not medically necessary’. These exclusions are laid out in the policy documents or T&Cs of each insurer.
When you are getting a quote, you can choose several different underwriting options – if you have any pre-existing conditions that are not on the exclusion list, then these different options will change how the conditions are treated in the future.
The most common are:
- Full Medical Underwriting – with this option, insurers ask for your medical history and go through your circumstances in detail to arrive at a price and their cover terms. You will need to check these terms in detail as for each pre-existing condition they may decide to exclude it completely, exclude it for a specific period of time after which it is then covered (assuming no symptoms in the meantime) or include it.
- Moratorium – with this option, there is no need to submit any medical information or history. The terms typically state that you are not covered for any medical condition that you have had in the last 5 years and that this remains the case for the first 2 years of the policy. If you are trouble-free (it’s important to be clear on what each insurer’s definition of ‘trouble-free’ is) of any pre-existing conditions throughout those two years, then you will be covered for all conditions from year 3 onwards. If you join from another health insurer, the moratorium period may be carried over rather than starting again. It’s worth noting that if you do make a claim, the insurer is likely to ask for information about your medical history at that point to confirm that the claim doesn’t relate to a pre-existing condition.
- Continued Cover – some insurers will accept a continuation of cover – that is copying all the existing exclusions on your current policy from another provider. In this case, there could be some variations in terms so you should check and see that there are no material differences when considering a switch.
The decision on which option to choose depends on a wide range of personal circumstances and the prices implied. Some will see the benefit of going through the longer, more intrusive Full Medical Underwriting process as it gives greater clarity on what will and what will not be covered before you buy.
Others prefer the convenience of the Moratorium process when buying and accept that there’s a possibility that when they make a claim, it might be turned down if their medical history shows it was, or is related to, a condition that existed prior to buying the policy.
Note that several insurers only offer Moratorium underwriting when you buy online, as the Full Medical Underwriting process requires in-depth discussion on your medical history and is best done over the phone or through the use of dedicated forms. If you are looking for Full Medical Underwriting, then it is worth calling the insurer to understand the best way to do that.
General and Medical are one health insurer who offer a specific option to cover pre-existing conditions.
For a limited list of conditions (including diabetes and hypertension) they allow you to add-on £1,000 of cover for that condition in the first year. If you remain claim-free for the year, this rises to £2,000 in the second year. This cycle repeats up to a maximum of £10,000 for the condition after 10 years claim-free.
This option allows people to get at least some comfort for conditions that are now under control and are unlikely to cause a serious illness, but might need some minor treatment.
You can begin or inform your search further with Activequote.com - their comparison service allows you to select the features you are interested in when comparing policies (including policies from General and Medical), making it easier and clearer to see what you are getting for your money.
Can I get Dental Health Insurance and what’s covered?
Dental issues are often excluded from UK Health Insurance policies. However, there are some exceptions and some ways that dental cover can be included, depending on each provider and the dental work in question.
If Dental cover is important, it's worth comparing each provider with the others.
For example, Bupa do not offer any dental cover with their health insurance policy, instead offering an entirely separate dental insurance product that can be bought independently of the health cover.
Vitality and Aviva cover ‘oral surgery’ – this tends to mean you are covered for more extensive procedures – these are typically those for which your dentist has referred you to hospital, or those that are reconstructive in nature following an accident. However, you would not be covered for treatments that your dentist carries out themselves.
Routine treatment can be covered as an add-on. If the correct add-on cover is selected then Aviva cover £300 of treatment per year (with a £50 excess).
Similarly, Vitality provide two levels of cover as add-ons; one for major dental work (like root canals) and one for major and routine treatments (like check-ups and polishing). Finally, AXA offer an add-on that pays 80% cashback on dental treatments up to £300 per year.
These are only examples of the policies available – always ensure you check the terms and conditions of your policy to be sure what the cover is you are buying. To help, you can compare the levels of dental cover for different policies using Activequote.com.
Read our guide to the best dental insurance policies.
Can I get Expat Health Insurance or International Health Insurance?
On a standard health insurance policy, most UK health insurance companies will not cover any treatment costs that are incurred outside the UK. Therefore regular travellers, expatriates or those heading abroad for extended periods of time may need to look for alternative options.
Bupa do not offer any cover whereas AXA and Vitality allow you to select an option that bolts on cover similar to travel insurance.
It is worth comparing the cost of this against your own separate travel cover as in the case of AXA the policy only provides for medical expenses but does not cover baggage or cancellation as is usually the case for travel policies.
If you want to compare policies that do or can include travel insurance, you can do so by using Activequote.com.
Finally, Aviva will cover emergency treatments abroad for acute conditions. A policyholder is covered to be abroad for up to 90 days in a policy year (note that breaching this limit voids your cover – i.e. if you abroad for 91 days, then you would not be covered for any days at all, rather than just having 1 day uncovered).
However, International Health Insurance policies do exist.
International Health Insurance is aimed at non-UK residents – so that might be people relocating for work for example – and usually requires you to specify the region(s) you want to be covered in, what medical situations you want covered and what excess you are happy with. Both Bupa and AXA provide this cover, as well as lesser-known providers such as Freedom Health Insurance.
Health Insurance during Pregnancy
insurance plans are funny 1 doesnt cover pregnancy BUT covers infertility treatment I mean What? "Well help you get there but screwed after"— Mary Galvin (@megalvin) February 15, 2015
There are differing wordings regarding pregnancy in health insurance. Pregnancy is generally viewed as ‘not an illness’, which, while technically correct, is not reassuring for expecting mothers and fathers alike.
The health insurance pregnancy wordings are often vague, describing that ‘routine’ pregnancy is not covered. However, insurers make various statements regarding pregnancy complications, indicating that some events would be covered.
Bupa’s online support staff indicated that conditions threatening the life of the mother would be likely to be covered, although their policy summary document describes that they do not routinely cover pregnancy.
AXA goes a step further and while similarly ruling out cover for ‘routine’ pregnancy, may cover medical conditions developed during pregnancy. They also provide a list of conditions that would be covered in their policy documents, including costs for treating ectopic pregnancies, retained placentas and miscarriages requiring immediate surgical treatment.
Aviva have a similar layout to AXA, whereas Vitality leave the terms somewhat less clear, describing that they ‘may’ cover ‘some’ related conditions, so it is best to discuss that with them if you are considering a policy and are concerned about the pregnancy cover specifically.
Freedom Health Insurance offer cover for pregnancy complications in their add-on ‘Executive benefits’ package. They also pay a pregnancy and maternity benefit.
These and other features can compared across providers and policy levels using Activequote.com.
For more information on how UK health insurers view pregnancy, read our in-depth article.
Is plastic surgery covered?
Insurers differentiate between cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery.
For example, AXA make that distinction and are happy to cover what they call the ‘first reconstructive surgery’ – that is plastic surgery that is necessary following an accident or as a result of surgery for a covered medical condition. They specify though that they would not be covering any treatment that then relates to the reconstruction.
AXA separate out ‘cosmetic’ surgery and will not cover it, nor will they cover and conditions relating to previous cosmetic surgery.
Breast reduction is a topic that is specifically drawn out by Vitality, who state that they will not cover it, whether or not for psychological or medical reasons.
Similarly, AXA do not cover it for either gender.
Bupa state that non-essential surgery is not covered but do not go into details on how that is defined.
Which is the best health insurance that covers complementary therapies?
Complementary therapies are usually considered in their own category by health insurers. They typically comprise chiropody, chiropractic treatments, homoeopathy and acupuncture.
Be aware though that each insurer’s definition varies with some considering physiotherapy separately and some putting it in this category. Dietary services can also be placed here.
Health insurers often offer complementary therapies as an add-on option to their core covers. AXA’s option provides £1,000 for all complementary therapies in total and allows for a maximum of 10 GP-referred appointments in any one year.
Aviva similarly restricts policyholders to ten appointments but doesn’t apply a monetary limit.
Vitality allow you to exclude complementary therapies to lower your premium, or select from two cover levels. The first limits you to £350 whereas the second provides unlimited cover.
The levels of complementary therapy and the premiums resulting can be compared across providers and policy levels by using Activequote.com.
Is "unlimited" cover really unlimited?
The top levels provided by different policies usually describe the amounts insured as ‘unlimited’ or similar.
This wording gives a message of comfort in the sense that no matter what the bill, your cover will apply. However, in practice there may be features of your policy and small print that means this is not the case.
The quoting process usually draws out some of these features. For example, you are asked to select the hospitals you would like to be eligible for treatment in – should you need or prefer treatment at another hospital then you would not be covered.
But some restrictions are less clear and can be equally important. For example, Bupa and AXA will cover specialists’ and surgeons’ fees in full, but critically, that’s only true if they are charging at the approved rates for the procedure you are having.
In practice, consultants are technically free to decide their own fees, so if they choose to charge more then the insurer won’t pay the full amount.
Often this isn’t a problem as many doctors choose to charge the approved rates. But sometimes your specific situation or location can mean there’s no option close by that charges the approved rates and you’ll be left out of pocket – the topic was reported on by The Daily Mail in 2012.
Private medical insurance told pt to get cataracts done on cheap high street or pay extra £1200 to see eye surgeon. http://t.co/BTiD9dy9SE— Dr Una Coales (@drunacoales) May 18, 2013
It’s also worth bearing in mind that there’s more than one person needed for an operation, so this can be an issue that crops up twice for one condition. Much like in the USA or other areas, anaesthetists are just as critical to the procedure and will charge much like the surgeon.
What's wrong with health insurance? Fee for the surgeon that came in at midnight to take my appendix out: $100.84. Anesthesiologist: 144.56— just1cyclist (@just1cyclist) September 17, 2011
It’s hard to know in advance what treatment you’re going to need and therefore whether there’s an appropriately covered specialist nearby! So when buying, it is a topic worth exploring with the insurer to understand whether you should put extra money aside in case of a shortfall.
Customer reviews can be helpful in understanding how comprehensive cover can be in practice. It's worth sifting through a few of the bad reviews (if any exist) as they can often relate to a situation where they were not covered, despite the customer expecting to be covered.
This can provide useful questions to look into by reading the terms and conditions of the policy you are considering or contacting the insurer directly to ask before buying.
We hope to add reviews of more providers from our list, as well as others on the market, in the coming weeks.
The Top 5 Health Insurance Companies in the UK
There are four companies that dominate UK health insurance and have a 90% market share between them. The other firms make up the remaining 10%. We covered why three of the big four aren't included in our top 10 and reviewed each of them. This section gives a brief overview of four biggest UK health insurers and a fifth that has high search demand.
Bupa is a giant in health insurance. It launched two years before the NHS and owns hospitals, care homes and dental centres. It offers private care for individuals and through some companies' benefit schemes. Read our full review here.
Vitality used to be known as PruHealth. It aims to keep its customers healthy by offering a range of rewards and discount relating to health and leisure. It has had a big marketing push in recent years, with campaigns fronted by the likes of Jessica Ennis-Hill. Read our full review here.
Aviva used to be called Norwich Union and it is the biggest insurer in the UK. Its history stretches back more than 300 years and it deals with millions of claims around the world every year. Read our full review here.
The company launched in 1940 and has become one of the biggest health insurance providers in the UK. It was named 2013's Best Healthcare Provider by Your Money. Read our full review here.
WPA is not one of the big four but there is a large amount of online search demand for it. It is a not-for-profit private medical insurer and it does not participate in capped payout or fee assured schemes. Read our full review here.