Private healthcare provides comfortable and quality treatment, as well as allowing you to skip the sometimes very long NHS queues. You probably know that private medical insurance can be pretty expensive. But there are ways to make health insurance more accessible, and allow private healthcare to become a reassuring safety net rather than a costly burden.
Three steps to help you find cheaper health insurance:
- Get a health insurance quote from activequote.com, so you know your starting point in terms of cost, before we explain how you can reduce those numbers.
- Read this article for a comparison of providers - we'll give you a few ways you can save money on health insurance, to help you find the cheapest health insurance policy possible without sacrificing cover.
- Join our Private Medical Insurance group, which offers a £100 voucher and 50% off gym membership with health insurance from a AXA PPP.
In this article:
- Health insurance quotes
- The Cheapest and Best health insurance policies
- Another option: Healthcare Cash Plans
- International Students
How to get cheap health insurance
Most health insurance plans in the UK offer a multitude of optional extras, such as dental and optical care, psychiatric treatment, and increased hospital lists. While these are valuable additions to a private medical insurance policy, they will inevitably increase the price, sometimes quite a lot.
So if your priority is keeping costs down, think carefully about which optional extras you really need, and which you can afford to leave out. For example, it makes sense to pay less if you aren't too bothered about physiotherapy or alternative medicine.
It's also important to consider what treatment you are happy to rely on the NHS for and what you definitely want covered by private health insurance. For example, you may be fine using the NHS for things like outpatient care and dentist's appointments, but know that waiting lists for mental health issues are very long - this would be covered under a psychiatric care option.
On the other hand, you might only want the security of private medical insurance for serious conditions like cancer, and are happy to use the NHS for everything else - this can mean removing all optional extras (though note that cover for cancer treatments is sometimes an option in itself).
If you are concerned about a particular type of cover, like cancer cover or dental care, it's a good idea to compare only the health insurance companies that offer it. A features-based comparison engine like activequote.com will compare quotes and prices and help find the provider that will give you this cover at the best price.
Aviva summarises its optional extras, as well as how to reduce the costs of healthinsurance, in the diagram below:
Usefully, health insurance companies also have options to keep premiums down. For example, you can choose to increase your excess in order to reduce the price you pay each month. Many companies offer a selection of excess options. Aviva’s, for example, ranges from £0 to £5,000. Typically, the higher the excess, the lower your premium, and this is a simple way to keep health insurance costs low.
But it’s important to bear in mind that you do have to pay this excess when you make a claim, so make sure it’s an amount you can definitely afford if it comes to it. The insurance company will either charge excess yearly, no matter how many claims you make, or will charge you an excess for every claim. Obviously, the first option typically works out cheaper, so be sure to read the small print of any policy.
You’ll also be responsible for any claims that come in under your chosen excess amount. So if your excess was £1,000, you’d have to pay for any treatment costing under £1,000 yourself.
Raising the excess can be a popular choice for people who are looking for private health insurance that only covers a ‘worst case’ scenario. If this applies to you, it might be an option to raise the excess to a very high level and accept that you'll be responsible to pay for more minor, less expensive treatment.
By doing this, you can take comfort from the fact that the insurance (with the right options) could cover the costs of a much more severe disease like cancer or heart disease, whilst enjoying reduced premiums at the same time.
Some health insurance companies also offer what they call a 6-week option. This means that they will reduce the cost of your policy if you agree to accept NHS treatment if it's available within 6 weeks (or 4, or 8, depending on the provider). This is a simple way to reduce your premiums, especially if you just want private medical insurance as a safety net in case NHS waiting lists are too long.
We found the companies that offer this option to be Aviva, AXA, Health-on-Line and Saga. If you like the sound of 6-week options, why not join our Private Medical Insurance group to get an exclusive discount of up to 20% off Health-on-line, helping you find even cheaper health insurance.
Another way you can save money on health insurance is to reduce the list of hospitals from which you can receive private care. This makes more sense in areas with many hospitals to choose from, or if you are happy with your local hospitals and don’t need additional options. City hospitals tend to cost more - especially those in London - so a good general rule is to choose rural hospitals over big city ones.
Moreover, some providers, such as Health-on-line, choose to restrict you to a network of hospitals where they have advantageous rates. That saves them money when they pay for your claim which is passed on to you as lower premiums.
Cheap health insurance is easier to get if you are young and in good health. So if you’re 35 and under, your premiums would be a lot cheaper than for someone over 60. Typically, the younger you are, the cheaper your health insurance. But while you may not be able to do anything about your age, you can improve your lifestyle.
Non-smokers, or those who quit over 1 year ago, tend to pay less than current smokers or those who recently quit. So if you need any more motivation to stop smoking, the prospect of cheaper health insurance may help (or not).
Insurers might also ask for more detailed lifestyle information in order to calculate your premiums. Aviva, for example, has an online tool called MyHealthCounts that assesses how healthy you are from lifestyle factors like diet and exercise, with potential savings of up to 15% on renewal for good health.
Meanwhile, Exeter Family Friendly uses BMI to help calculate premiums, meaning that those within normal weight boundaries would pay less than those considered overweight. You can compare health insurance quotes from Exeter Family Friendly at activequote.com
An alternative way to get cheaper health insurance is to join one of our exclusive groups - for free. Our Private Medical Insurance group offers a discount of up to 20% on health insurance from Health-on-line.
We also have a Health Insurance Group that uses the collective buying power of its members to secure a deal with Vitality. Vitality offers rewards like free coffee and cinema tickets, as well as discounts from selected partners, such as 50% off Virgin Active gym membership per month.
If you join our Health Insurance Group for free, you'll get all these money-saving extras plus a £50 voucher to spend at Vitality's selected partners - choose from Champneys, Eurostar, Evans, Sweatshop and Mr & Mrs Smith among many others. Check out the details here.
Health insurance quotes
Health insurance doesn’t have a set price, and often varies wildly depending on age, postcode, and cover options. The following quotes are for a 30-year-old female non-smoker, with a Milton Keynes postcode.
We decided that the ‘cheapest’ health insurance quotes would be those under £40/month for an individual, with a £250 excess (where applicable). All prices correct at time of writing.
Have a look at our commentary underneath the table to see the details of what is covered.
|Provider & Policy|
|WPA - Essentials|
|General Medical – Everyday Plus|
|Health on the line – Health for you|
|CS April -inSpire|
|Freedom - Elite|
|WPA – Premier|
|General & Medical - Lifestyle|
|Bupa - Comprehensive|
The Cheapest & Best Policies
So now you’ve seen some sample health isurance quotes, we’ve narrowed it down to what we think are the best of the cheapest health insurance policies. These are the policies that provide the most coverage for the least cost – under £40 a month.
WPA Essentials is the cheapest option by far – nearly half the price of the next cheapest policy. But you get what you pay for, as its level of cover is very basic. Unlike almost all of the other policies, which provide an unlimited payout, it only offers a £50,000 maximum payout per year. A WPA Essentials policy will pay for hospital charges (for surgery and the like), as well as in-patient specialist fees and diagnostic tests. It will also pay for out-patient specialist fees, but only up to £150. WPA Essentials does not cover MRI, CT or CAT scans, radio and chemotherapy, or psychiatric treatment.
So WPA Essentials is probably best only if you are on a tight budget and just want the security of private hospital care in case you really need it.
Of very similar prices per month are Freedom Elite and WPA Premier. WPA Premier technically covers more healthcare options as standard, such as physiotherapy, complementary and alternative medicine, as well as optical and dental cover. Freedom Elite does not cover any of these options, but importantly does cover radio and chemotherapy, which WPA Premier doesn’t. So, in this case, it really depends on your priorities.
If you want health insurance to be secure in the knowledge that you'd be treated quickly if anything serious happens to you, then cancer cover might be a necessity.
If you are happy to pay a bit more, the most complete cover out of our budget policies was General and Medical's Altus Plus policy. Altus Plus is rated 4/5 stars on independent financial services review site Defaqto, and offers cover for radio and chemotherapy, a range of out-patient services such as diagnostic tests, as well as CT, MRI & PET Scans, physiotherapy and psychiatric care.
Healthcare Cash Plans
Healthcare cash plans are not the same as private medical insurance – but they can be a cheaper option if you want cover for regular, minor health expenses rather than serious health issues. Health cash plans are designed to pay out for routine medical costs like dental and optical care, physiotherapy and NHS parking, not big medical procedures or diagnostics.
The idea is that you pay in a small monthly premium - starting from around £20 a month - and then you can claim back money if and when you need treatment. Some offer additional benefits: Aviva, for example, provide 25% off gym membership and a 24-hour GP helpline. So, on the one hand, cash plans seem like a simple and affordable way to get cover for everyday medical expenses.
However, be sure to read all the small print when considering cash plans, as often the policy will specify that, even if the yearly limit is £200, you can only claim, say, £50 per dentist visit. Additionally, some policies may only pay out a percentage of treatment costs, such as 75% or 80%. This means that, in some cases, healthcare cash plans may be too good to be true.
So cash plans are a viable option if you just want help with everyday medical expenses like the dentist, opticians and prescriptions. But it's not really an alternative to private medical insurance - health insurance may be more expensive, but it will always offer more in terms of cover.
Going to the UK to study is an exciting choice, but becoming an overseas student comes with some complications. As well as the culture shock and missing your mum’s cooking, you might have to sort out your own health insurance.
Whether you have access to free NHS healthcare depends on whether you are an EEA or non-EEA student. International students from the European Economic Area (EEA) are granted access to the NHS free of charge, but must have a valid EHIC card. For more information on EHICs, click here.
But it gets more complicated if you’re a visitor from outside the EEA. The NHS states that ‘If you are visiting England from a non-EEA country, you need to ensure you are covered for healthcare through personal medical insurance for the duration of your visit’. It advises that if you don’t arrange private insurance, you will be charged at 150% of the standard NHS rate for any services you use.
It adds that if you are visiting the UK for longer than 6 months, you will instead need to pay the immigration surcharge when completing your VISA application, which is currently £150 for students. So it seems that private health insurance is more important if you are staying in the UK for less than 6 months, or if you want private rather than NHS treatment on an ongoing basis, rather than per service.
Some NHS services will still be free for students coming from outside the EEA, though. These include: accident and emergency services, treatment for infectious diseases, and family planning services.
So what are your options?
This really depends on how long you’re studying in the UK. If you’re staying for 4 months or less, student insurance company Endsleigh offers a comprehensive international student insurance policy, which covers students’ medical costs up to £2,000,000, course fees in case the course must be cut short due to an accident or illness, and the cost of bringing a family member to the UK in the event of a medical emergency.
When we ran a quote though Endsleigh for a 19-year-old student studying in the UK for 4 months, the price quoted was £47.84.
However, unfortunately this policy is only available to students studying in the UK on a short-term basis. If you’re in the UK for longer than 4 months, it would be wise to take out a standard health insurance policy with either a UK insurer or a company from your home country. Bear in mind that this kind of private medical insurance is not aimed at international students, so it won’t have the same benefits as Endsleigh’s international student insurance, such as course fees cover.
Not all UK private medical insurance companies offer cover to those living in the UK on a short-term basis, as many require you to be resident in the UK for 6 months before you can take out a policy. The exceptions to this rule are Exeter Family Friendly, which only requires you to be a resident before buying, and Vitality, which doesn't need you to be resident before you buy but insists you must be in the UK for 180 days per year after buying.
Health insurance may be an annoying thing to sort out, but it will probably be easier (and cheaper) than relying on NHS services if anything happens. We hope you have an amazing time studying in the UK!