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Private Health Insurance

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In the UK, we’re lucky to have access to the National Health Service (NHS), a free public healthcare system, however we know how much they're suffering from long waiting lists for diagnosis and testing, as well as surgery and treatment.

With private health insurance (also known as private medical insurance, or PMI), you can get fast access to quality healthcare, top consultants, treatment and care - for you and your family. LifeSearch experts are on hand to help you get sorted.

What is private health insurance?

Generally speaking, private health insurance is designed to cover medical conditions that respond quickly to treatment (usually called ‘acute conditions’). Typically, health insurance also covers costs of medical tests and diagnostic scans, elective surgery, hospital accommodation, consultant fees, treatment drugs and nursing care.

Private health insurance helps to pay for some, or all, of the medical treatment that someone needs. It allows quick access to top health care professionals, improving your chances of a quick, full recovery.

Most policies can be tailored to meet your needs and budget accordingly. You can have choices around the types of medical treatment covered, what level of cover will apply to those treatments, the location where your treatment is provided, whether you want outpatient care and the contribution you might be willing to make to the treatment cost (called ‘the excess’).

Do I need private health insurance?

While we enjoy a free public healthcare service, the NHS, they may not always offer access to all medication and treatments. Private healthcare is an alternative – but can be expensive if you’re paying for it out of your own pocket (often called ‘self-funding’). If you're employed, it's worth checking with your employer whether they have a scheme that you, and your family are eligible for.

The likelihood is that most of us will suffer from a condition, illness or need medical treatment during our lives. Private Health insurance (also known as private medical insurance) can provide a more affordable way of accessing private healthcare.

Did you know that 5.8 million people covered by private health insurance, 4.4m through their employer and 1.4million individually.* (ABI statistics, 2023)

How much does private health insurance cost?

Private health insurance will depend on many factors:

  • Who is covered – yourself, you and your partner, or your family
  • The level of cover you require – basic or comprehensive cover, and optional benefits
  • Your post code - where you live can have a significant effect on cost of treatment and private medical facilities
  • Your age – the older you are, the more expensive it is
  • Your medical history and family history

There are a couple of other things to bear in mind too. Most policies have limits; this may be a financial limit for types of treatment or cover, consultant fees, or maybe a limit on the choice of hospitals you can choose from.

They may also have an excess, which means you pay up an amount towards a claim. The larger the excess the cheaper the premium, and some insurers will give you the option on its frequency. For example, each time you make a claim, or for the first claim you make each year.

The most important factor is ensuring the policy you choose is fit for purpose, and meets your needs. Any like-for-like comparison is tricky, as there are so many variables some policies may include cover as standard or as on others it's an optional extra.

Our examples below show illustrative price ranges for health insurance – with zero excess and full cancer treatment coverage*. Prices can vary considerably depending on the specific cover options you choose, as well as your age and medical history and location.



Lower range (basic plans

Upper range (comprehensive plans


From £36.00


to £113.90 a month


From £48.54


to £149.33 a month


From £70.46


to £217.27 a month


From £101.66


to £320.76 a month


*assumed living in the Midlands (Worcester), with illustrations from 4 leading insurers (4C platform, February 2024)

1 ‘basic plans’ do not include any outpatient care cover. 2 ‘comprehensive’ plans tend to include unlimited outpatient care cover.

Most ‘basic’ plans don’t include ‘outpatient cover’, but some standard plans include this, up to specified limits, there are options to extend it higher, and most comprehensive plans include unlimited outpatient care/costs. LifeSearch will always recommend including an element of out-patients cover. Don’t worry, we’ll also give you the cost breakdown so that you can make an informed choice.

How does private health insurance work?

When you have private health insurance it allows you to claim for the cost of private medical care, instead of using the NHS, or self-funding.

Different insurers have different claims processes. If you're thinking of seeking private treatment, its always handy to check your insurer's website and your policy documents, to see whether there's any specific guidance.

  1. Get a referral from your GP

  2. Every claim starts with an appointment with your GP. If you suspect you have a health problem, get in contact with your GP or healthcare provider, as you would for any medical issue. But let them know you've got private cover.

    Following your consultation with your GP and, if required, they'll refer you to a specialist and then depending on your health insurance policy, you might be able to choose private hospitals or specialists which may not be available on the NHS.

  3. Inform your insurer

  4. Once you've been given a referral letter, you'll need to tell your insurance provider that you want to make a claim. You’ll need: 

    • your policy number.
    • details of what your GP told you.
    • details of your condition.
    • details of your referral.
    They will confirm whether the treatment you want or need, is covered by your policy.

    Once you've seen a specialist, call your insurer again to let them know what steps will be taken next. Also make sure you understand how you'll pay for any consultations or treatment, either you'll have to pay and claim the money back, or your provider will pay directly.

  5. Your insurer covers the cost

  6. If it is covered, the insurer will approve your claim and you’ll be booked into see a consultant and have any tests to diagnose your condition and recommended treatment path. The cost will be covered by your insurance provider so long as your policy is active. You may also be asked to pay an excess towards the cost of treatment, and limits may apply to the amount of costs covered, depending on your policy.

What does private health insurance cover?

There is a wide choice of private health insurance policies available. These offer different types and levels of cover, with automatically included benefits and, sometimes, optional add-ons too. These mean you can tailor cover to your individual needs and your budget. 

Private Health Insurance is designed to cover the cost of private medical treatment for ‘acute conditions’, that start after a policy begins. It includes access to independent healthcare services, which often means a speedy diagnosis and reduced waiting times for treatment. 

An acute condition is a disease, illness or injury that is likely to respond quickly to the treatment that aims to return you to the state of health you were in immediately before suffering the disease, illness or injury, or which leads to your full recovery.

Different levels of cover are available to meet the needs of different customers. For example, you can choose the types of treatment that are covered by your policy and up to what cost.

Cover usually includes:

  • The cost of hospital admission
  • Diagnostic tests, such as MRI and CT scans
  • Surgery
  • The costs of seeing a consultant
  • Hospital accommodation and nursing care
  • Cancer drugs - some polices will include drugs that are not available on the NHS

Options may also include:

  • Outpatient consultations
  • Mental health treatment options
  • Complementary therapies
  • Physiotherapy and chiropody

What is not covered?

Your insurer will typically not cover ‘chronic conditions’. These are diseases, illnesses or injuries that have one or more of the following characteristics: 

  • needs long-term monitoring, control and relief of symptoms
  • continues indefinitely, and 
  • has no known cure, or is likely to come back.

Although initial diagnostic tests are usually covered, if such test then leads to a diagnosis of a chronic condition, the long-term treatment needed won't be covered alongside that. For example, if you developed symptoms of diabetes and your GP referred you to a specialist to diagnose the issue, your policy should cover this. 

However, if you are then diagnosed with diabetes, any treatment, medication or check-ups would no longer be covered, and would instead pass to the NHS. You may, however, be treated for acute flare-ups of the condition, so it's worth checking with your insurer.

Normally, you will not be covered for any illnesses you are currently suffering from or have already had - sometimes referred to as ‘pre-existing conditions’.

Typically, conditions such as asthma and arthritis are excluded as standard. See below for other examples of excluded conditions.

What are the advantages of private health insurance?

Private health insurance is designed to cover the costs of private medical treatment. You can enjoy early consultations and fast treatment times, without being subjected to long waiting lists. It can also mean treatment in a private hospital from some of the country's top consultants and high patient/nurse ratios, which can be crucial for a speedy recovery. These hospitals also insist on high standards of comfort and catering, as well as having reduced risk of contracting superbugs, such as MRSA.

When compared with the NHS, there are advantages and disadvantages with private health insurance.


  • Faster access to healthcare – with quick referrals to specialists, testing and treatment – reduced waiting times, and flexibility to suit you
  • Choice of healthcare – a wider range of providers hospitals and access to medication and treatments, that aren't always available on the NHS
  • Private rooms and quality care – access to your own room hive amenities such as TV and Wi-Fi, quality meals and comfort. This also allows more flexible visiting arrangements


  • Premiums – private health insurance can be expensive. The more more coverage you need, the more expensive it is
  • Range of cover – a policy may not cover all conditions, and some treatments may require additional out of pocket expenses
  • Pre-existing conditions – most likely excluded, or coverage might be limited with higher premiums


Why get advice from LifeSearch

There are many different private health insurance choices available – with basic and comprehensive plans, and lots of optional benefits. All insurers have their own versions of these products and variants. And then there are medical advances, changes to treatments and newly approved drugs to consider too.

Without LifeSearch in your corner that’s a lot of reading and info to get your head around, and it’s not easy to compare like for like … research, reading and analysis you don’t have to do. 

Frequently asked questions about private health insurance

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