What does Private Health Insurance cost?

David Woodfield By David Woodfield

The average premium for UK private health insurance is £1,120 per year (source: Datamonitor). But you might pay much more or much less than that for health insurance depending on the two factors that influence the cost.

You can check the price of health insurance policies from a range of companies using specialist comparison site Activequote.com.

Or use our article to find out about the best health insurance policies.

What does typical private health insurance cost?

As a starting point for this article, we wanted to find out prices for a 'typical' buyer - we got quotes for a 33 year old, living near Oxford*, from the four largest UK Health Insurers – BUPA, AXA, Aviva and Vitality. This gave us prices between £23 and £27 per month or £276 and £324 per year.

These quotes are much lower than the average above, as we quoted for a younger individual with no family and low cover options.

Factors affecting the cost of UK private medical insurance

The cost of private health cover depends on two main factors: a set of information about your personal circumstances and the set of policy options and cover levels that you choose.

We go into more detail on cover options in Best Health Insurance, but in brief ‘your circumstances’ can mean how old you are, where you live, whether you’re insuring just yourself or a whole family and so on.

'Cover levels' mean the options and limits you select to cover treatments or amounts that the basic cover would not. We explore the cost of these below.

How much does each cover option cost?

We added different options and limits to our basic quote to see what happened to the price for 7 health insurance options. Remember that prices will vary for each individual so these prices are only intended to be a guide alongside your own research into policies and prices (e.g. using a comparison site like Activequote.com).

We investigated the cost of these 7 health insurance options (with costs rounded to the nearest pound):

  1. What does dental Private Medical Insurance cost?
  2. What does health insurance for alternative therapies cost?
  3. How much is health insurance covering outpatient treatments?
  4. What does private medical insurance with cancer cover cost?
  5. What difference do the hospitals I choose make to the price?
  6. Does a higher excess make it cheaper?
  7. What do different health insurance underwriting methods cost?
  8. How much do individual private medical treatments cost?

1. What does Dental private medical insurance cost?

We found our quote increased between £4 and £37 per month for our 33 year old.

Aviva, AXA and Vitality all offer options that allow you to get different levels of UK Dental cover. The cover levels - and hence costs - of the Dental treatment vary quite a lot between them. Both Axa and Aviva combine Dental cover with Optical cover (i.e. for optician fees). Their dental cover is intended to cover major work only, and doesn't over routine examinations and maintenance. Adding these options to our basic cover for our 33 year old added £4 - £11 per month to our premium.

Vitality offer two different levels of dental cover. Their option to cover 'major treatment only' is similar in price to Aviva and AXA with a £6 extra monthly charge for our 33 year-old. They also have an option that would include cover for more routine and minor treatments - as such claims are much more likely and Vitality quoted us a much larger £37 extra per month for this level of cover, more than doubling the premium for basic health insurance cover. Meanwhile, there is a separate BUPA health insurance cost for Dental Insurance policies, which can be purchased directly from their site.

The prices for different levels of dental cover as part of a private medical insurance policy can be compared using Activequote.com which allows a detailed comparison of health policies online.

Read our guide to the best dental insurance policies.

2. What does health insurance for alternative therapies cost?

We found our quote increased between just £1 and £3 per month for our 33 year old.

Each insurer has a slightly different definition of what they consider to be an 'alternative' therapy, so inevitably the costs of their cover vary as well.

Vitality have a definition that includes chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatrists and acupuncturists. They give unlimited cover for these treatments, quoting our 33-year-old under £1 per month for the cover. Physiotherapy is covered in their outpatient option which is priced separately.

Aviva quoted our profile an extra £3 per month for cover that allowed an annual maximum of 10 visits in total to physios, osteopaths, chiropractors or acupuncturists. AXA charged roughly the same amount for similar cover (though do read the documents carefully).

The prices for different levels of alternative treatment covers as part of a private health insurance policy can be compared using Activequote.com which allows a detailed comparison of health policies online.

3. What does UK health insurance with outpatient cover cost?

We found our quote increased between £7 and £18 per month for our 33 year old.

Most health insurance policies have a 'basic' or 'core' level of cover that insures you for treatments when you are admitted to hospital - clearly these would tend to include more serious and life-threatening conditions. However these basic levels of cover often do not include any cover for outpatient treatment - i.e. being treated by a hospital, doctor or specialist without admission to or an overnight stay in a hospital.

This outpatient cover can be added on, and as for other covers, the details of it vary from insurer to insurer. Our 33 year-old example buyer was quoted an extra £7 per month by AXA for their Standard Outpatient option. Their core cover includes cover for out-patient surgery, CT, MRI and PET scans already so this extra out-patient option is for consultations, diagnostic tests or if you need to see a practitioner (a nurse, dietitian, orthoptist or speech therapist). Their Standard option covers 3 specialist consultations with no limit on diagnostics or practitioner charges.

Vitality's core cover also covers MRI, CT and PET scans. Their outpatient option covers other out-patient costs, such as specialist consultations, physiotherapy, and diagnostic tests like blood tests and x-rays. £750 of cover per year was quoted for us at an extra £11 per month. Aviva have a similar approach - CT, MRI and PET scans are covered in full by the core cover, as are pre-admission tests (tests carried out at hospital before your admission to check that you are fit to undergo surgery and anaesthesia) and radiotherapy/chemotherapy. All other outpatient costs are subject to the level of cover you select - £1,000 of cover was quoted for us at £18 per month.

The prices for different levels of outpatient treatment covers as part of a private health insurance policy can be compared using Activequote.com which allows a detailed comparison of health policies online.

4. What are the costs for Cancer cover?

As a now common and significant illness, cancer is usually covered as standard to at least some degree. However, there are sometimes limits on specific treatments, specific drugs or time limits for which treatment will be paid for - so it is worth understanding the details. Once again, insurers take different stances with their cover - Aviva, for example offer no flexibility in the cancer cover they provide under their 'Cancer Pledge'.

AXA includes cancer cover and care within its core cover which gives full cover for experimental treatment, chemotherapy and radiotherapy and unlimited out-patient cancer treatment. They allow you to opt for an 'NHS Cancer support' option which removes this support and leaves you reliant on the NHS for any cancer treatment - doing so saved our 33 year old just £3 per month on their premium (about 10% of the basic monthly premium) but this could be larger for older buyers or those from different postcodes.

Vitality also take the approach of providing their maximum cover as standard but allowing you to downgrade it if you should so wish. This lower level of cover applies a 12-month limit on the use of biological therapies and a 3-month limit on hormone or bisphosphonate therapy when prescribed on their own. Our 33-year-old saved just a few pence per month by doing this.

You can compare UK prices for private medical policies using Activequote.com which allows a detailed comparison of health policies online.

5. The effect of different hospitals

The amounts a UK hospital charges to treat you can vary by hospital - use of their equipment, facilities and accommodation can be charged at different rates. As with the price of many services, it is typical for hospitals in larger UK cities to be more expensive than rural hospitals.

Insurers try to keep this situation fair for all concerned. Firstly they negotiate with hospitals to ensure that prices do not rise out of control - they may even do deals to get preferential rates which should then result in lower premiums. Secondly, they put the hospitals into different groups - each insurer calls their groups different things but they amount roughly to a group of the cheapest hospitals, a middle set and a group of the most expensive hospitals. You then choose which set you want to be covered at, paying more if you want to be covered at the more expensive hospitals. This ensures that people living near cheaper hospitals are paying less for their health cover.

The flip side to this is that if you live near a large city, you might find your closest hospital is in your insurer's most expensive category. This can have an effect on the amount you pay. For example, Vitality's lowest category ("Local") includes "all of the hospitals in the UK’s largest hospital groups, BMI Healthcare, Nuffield Health, Spire Healthcare, Aspen and Ramsay Health Care". Their next level up ("Countrywide") adds in most other private hospitals outside London, all NHS private patient units outside London and some London NHS Private patients units - for our 33-year-old this caused a £3 per month increase in the quote. Their top level ("Premier") includes all private hospitals in the UK and all NHS private patient units, this time increasing our quote by £9 per month. A similar pattern exists (albeit with some differences in the specific hospitals covered) for other providers with AXA having two levels (for us at £7 per month to upgrade) and Aviva and BUPA have 3 (costing between £2 and £13 per month to upgrade).

As with all factors, the decision over which hospitals to get cover from is an individual one, with buyers weighing up the proximity of their nearest 'covered' hospital, the premium associated with getting cover for it and the facilities at that hospital for any particular medical concerns they have.

You can compare UK prices for private health policies using Activequote.com which allows a detailed comparison of health policies online.

6. Changing your Excess

As with every type of insurance, UK Private Health Insurance policies use an excess to help control claims. The insurer's thinking is that if you have to pay the first part of a claim, then you'll be more careful about incurring a claim at all and only really do it when you have to. Their fear without an excess would be that people would claim regularly as there would be no cost to them.

Excesses are typically charged either per year (i.e. you pay the first say £250 of claims in any one year and then no more, regardless of the number of value of claims) or per claim (i.e. you pay the first say £250 of each claim that is made). Make sure you know which you have as the per claim excess will often work out more expensive.

All insurers give some degree of flexibility on the excess you have on your policy - for example, Vitality let you choose whether you have a per year or a per claim excess and what amount you'd like.

The Excess can also have a material impact on cost - a high excess makes things cheaper. For example, BUPA health insurance costs roughly £24 per month with a £500 excess for our 33 year old example, but it leaps up to £39 per month for a zero excess. Whilst hiking up the excess can make for attractive premium levels, buyers should remember that adding a high excess not only means more to pay when you have a big claim, it also means that you will be wholly responsible for claim amounts under the excess you choose. For example, setting a £1000 per claim excess with Vitality resulted in a £17 per month reduction in premiums for our 33 year old. However they would then be responsible for any claim up to £1000, even two or three £800 claims in one year would not be covered.

You can compare UK prices for private health policies, and compare their excess levels, using Activequote.com which allows a detailed comparison of health policies online.

7. Changing your underwriting

You can read more about the different underwriting methods in the pre-existing conditions section of our article Best Health Insurance 2015. The implication on cost is quite small - for example switching from Full Medical Underwriting to a 2-year Moratorium cost our 33-year-old under £2 per month. As a result, many people choose the type of underwriting based on their personal circumstances and the resulting terms and conditions they are comfortable with, rather than the price.

You can use Activequote.com to investigate the costs and cover levels for different policies with different underwriting methods.

How much difference do my personal circumstances make to the cost of my health insurance?

Health insurers each price differently so the answer varies, however if you ignore the variations in the choices you make regarding your cover options (see above) the majority of price variation relates to your postcode and your age.

Just as for car, home or travel insurance you can enter your details at comparison site Activequote.com to generate a series of quotes from different health insurance providers.

Does my postcode affect the cost of my health insurance?

The phrase 'postcode lottery' applies in Health Insurance to a degree. As explained above, insurers base their prices on the experiences they have had before with certain groups of people - usually defined by their postcode and their age. There's little to explain this pattern fully for a customer and practically speaking there is little you can do about it if you find your postcode is expensive!

For the interested, the curious or those considering moving based solely on the cost of their health insurance (an odd choice, if you ask us) we tested 7 different UK postcodes ranging from rural locations to prime central London. The difference between the highest and lowest quotes for our overly-mobile 33-year-old with Vitality was £11 per calendar month.

However this does raise one important and practical piece of information - if you already have health insurance and have recently moved out of a more expensive postcode, your insurer might not have repriced your insurance and changed your monthly premiums to match (as is the norm with motor insurance). Therefore it might be worth shopping around to see if you can get a lower quote (though be wary of terms and conditions surrounding any pre-existing conditions you might have if you do decide to move).

Does my age affect the cost of my health insurance?

So this one we aren't going to go into - there's nothing you can do about it! Insurers charge more for your age and premiums do increase markedly for those over 50 as the chances of making a claim increase heavily too. If you find the solution to this by growing yourself younger, please do let us know!

8. How much do individual private medical treatments cost?

You can access private treatment without insurance by paying for individual procedures or operations.

However, the cost of treatment can be high. Privatehealth.co.uk found the highest price of private knee replacement in the UK is £14,227 and the highest price of a CT scan is £809.

We’ve listed some of the average costs for private treatment in the UK if you do not have health insurance, according to Privatehealth.co.uk.

Private medical treatment
Average cost
Knee replacement
£11,215
Hip replacement
£10,340
Cataract surgery
£3,030
Varicose vein surgery
£3,129
Coronary angioplasty
£2,969
Hernia repair
£410
Skin lesion removal
£1,495
CT scan
£672

Find out more

You can explore prices by using a comparison site such as Activequote.com. Or investigate lowering costs through our article Cheap Health Insurance. And you can check out our Health Insurance Offers to save up to 20% on your health insurance.

We have also written guides to the best life insurance, income protection insurance and dental cover, in case you are interested in these products.

* Quotes obtained for an individual, 33 years old, living in OX2 9QH, insuring only themselves, with the lowest levels of cover selected for each cover option, and a £500 excess with Full Medical Underwriting. Note that each section will change one of these factors to see the effect on price - this is stated in each section. All prices obtained in May 2015.

You can compare prices and policy features across the market using Activequote.com.

You can also use your collective buying power and get access to an exclusive Bought By Many member deal on Health Insurance through our groups:

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