Health insurance: the different types and how affordable they are

Before you buy health insurance, consider your needs and your budget

Health insurance is designed to pay your private healthcare costs if you have acute, short-term illnesses or injuries that respond quickly to treatment — like infections and viruses. The point is essentially to get you back to how you were feeling before, quickly.

If you're considering private health insurance, you may be thinking of it as a way to supplement the excellent NHS care you're already entitled to. Although it's optional, you get benefits like prompt access to specialist care, more choices about which hospitals or consultants you receive treatment

from, and possibly even extras like a private, en suite room. You can think of it as the care you need in a comfortable environment, without the wait.

But there are several types of health insurance available, each with slightly different offerings, and which one you choose will depend on your circumstances. Here's an overview of the four main choices and how affordable they are.

1. Private health insurance

What you're probably thinking of when it comes to health insurance is private medical insurance, or private health insurance. You'll get access to a large network of private consultants and hospitals to treat short-term illness or injury, and benefits can include faster access to treatment and a comfortable room.

What's generally covered:

  • Hospital charges and specialist fees: if you need to be admitted to hospital, charges for surgery, tests, nursing fees and meals are usually covered.
  • Outpatient consultations and treatment: even if you don't have to stay overnight in hospital, many comprehensive plans will pay for diagnostic tests, consultations and treatments.
  • Necessary surgery
  • Cancer treatment: usually including diagnosis, treatment and aftercare, and sometimes drugs not available on the NHS
  • You may be able to get mental health care, depending on your level of cover
  • Other therapies, like physiotherapy, may be available, depending on your cover options

What's not generally covered:

  • Pre-existing conditions: if you had a disease, illness or injury before you applied for cover, it won't generally be covered by a health insurance policy. You can read more about how we assess pre-existing conditions
  • Chronic conditions: incurable and long-lasting conditions, like diabetes and epilepsy
  • A&E visits: these won't usually be covered, as A&E visits are available to everyone through the NHS and most private hospitals don't have emergency departments
  • Pregnancy and childbirth: this may not be covered, but treatment required if there are complications may be covered
  • Organ transplants may not be covered under standard insurance
  • Drug abuse or non-essential and cosmetic procedures

How affordable it is

Private health insurance is the most comprehensive type of health insurance, which means it’s also the most expensive. With our private health insurance, you can control the features you have and don’t have from our ‘Healthier Solutions’ policy, which can increase or decrease your monthly premiums. No matter what features you choose, you'll get cover for cancer diagnosis, treatment, and aftercare as standard.

Good to know

You can take out health insurance as an individual policy, with the option to add your family, or as part of a work health insurance scheme. With a workplace policy, you may not need to declare your medical history.

When you're choosing private health insurance, you'll want to consider if there are any monetary limits on the policy, or any excesses. Monetary limits are limits on how much a policy can pay out to the cost of a treatment or course of treatments, and an excess is the amount you'll be expected to contribute. Make sure you have the right options selected for you.

2. Diagnostics insurance

Diagnostics insurance gives you access to consultants and diagnostic tests to help find the initial cause of a medical problem. It’s different to private health insurance because it doesn’t pay for any treatment: it only covers the costs associated with diagnosis. It offers peace of mind at a time when you need to find out what’s wrong, letting you bypass an NHS waiting list and see specialists quickly. Our diagnostics insurance is called Speedy Diagnostics. When you have this cover with us, there’s no limit to the number of tests you can have so that your specialist can make a diagnosis, and no maximum annual amount for eligible consultations or tests.

How affordable it is

Diagnostics insurance is generally cheaper than full private health insurance, but remember that it only covers the costs of diagnosis. If you need treatment or further tests after diagnosis, you’ll need to use the NHS or pay for it yourself.

3. Cash plans

Cash plans are schemes that allow you to pay a low monthly fee to have routine medical and dental expenses covered, up to a limit. It's not the same as private health insurance, because you can use a cash plan to pay for ongoing and routine treatments. So it might be right for you if you're trying to manage the costs of everyday treatments like visits to the dentist, optician or physiotherapist.

How affordable it is

Monthly premiums tend to be low, and you'll have a choice of healthcare practitioner. You may also get access to benefits like medical helplines. Pre-existing conditions aren't usually excluded, but cash plans won't generally cover cosmetic treatments.

You can choose a plan that suits your needs. So you might want a plan that offers more dental cover, if you regularly go for dental check-ups and hygienist visits. Or you might want one that offers more cover for physiotherapy, if you have musculoskeletal problems.

4. Condition-specific insurance

If you're largely happy to stick with NHS treatment, but you have a specific condition you'd like a little help with, you can get a low-cost private plan targeting that specific condition, to complement your NHS care. That's what our Cancer Essentials and Physio Essentials plans offer.

Our Physio Essentials covers:

  • Telephone clinical assessments
  • Personalised programmes
  • Virtual physiotherapy
  • Face-to-face physiotherapy
  • Exclusive online information

How affordable it is

Physio Essentials is available from £14.50 a month, and as long as you’re aged 18 or over, you can add your partner to your policy, though this costs extra. The policy excludes assessments within the first 30 days, in-home treatment, and exercise equipment.

Our Cancer Essentials cover includes:

  • A £5,000 cash payout if you're diagnosed with cancer, to spend however you need
  • Up to £100,000 cancer drugs cover if your NHS specialist recommends treatment the NHS won't pay for on financial grounds
  • A cancer advice helpline, featuring a range of services from a dedicated personal nurse adviser, offering emotional support, home visits, and a series of calls from a specialist nurse

How affordable it is

Cancer Essentials cover is available from £2.03 a month. Bear in mind that this excludes pre-existing cancer, non-melanoma skin cancer, and prostate cancer. This price is based on an 18-year-old nonsmoker (prices will increase with age).

Choose the right health insurance for you

Health insurance is designed to complement, not replace, NHS care. Consider what's most important to you when you're looking at your options — is it budgeting, managing a long-term chronic problem like back pain, preparing for the unexpected? The answer will help you decide which type of plan is right for you.

Want health insurance?

Get more control over when, how and where you’re treated.

Health articles

Keep on top of your health and wellbeing with our guides and articles.