NHS services in the UK are invaluable, and for most of us are enough to cover our basic healthcare needs.

However, with NHS waiting times getting longer, and many people wondering what they would do should they need specialist care or treatment, growing numbers are considering investing in private medical insurance.

Health insurance, otherwise known as private medical insurance, can be an attractive option, as it provides you with a variety of private healthcare options and tends to be much quicker than going through the NHS.

However, cover doesn’t come cheap, with premiums typically rising the older you get. In this article, we’ll go through all of the factors that can affect your health insurance premiums/ and what your rates could look like.

Which factors affect my health insurance premiums?

There are a range of factors which affect the premiums you will pay for private medical cover.

As a general rule, the more likely your insurer thinks you are to need medical cover (and the more they think it will cost if you do), the higher your premiums will be, so they will ask you for any relevant medical information during the application process. Remember to be as honest as possible, as you can jeopardise your ability to claim if the details you give turn out to be untrue.

The main factors taken into account are as follows:

  • Your age: the older you are, the higher your premiums are likely to be, as people tend to be more at risk of health issues the older they get.
  • Your current and pre-existing health conditions: depending on the level of policy you get, insurers may ask whether you have any current or pre-existing health conditions, or a history of health issues. If you do, this may increase the premiums you have to pay. Current or pre-existing conditions may not be covered by your provider, though they will sometimes cover treatment for a pre-existing condition if you go long enough without any symptoms. Your provider will generally not cover you for a chronic health condition, but may cover treatment for an acute episode arising from this condition. Check your policy small print carefully before signing up so you know exactly what you’re covered for.
  • Your claims history: if you have made health insurance claims in the past, your premiums will likely be higher as a result.
  • Your postcode: healthcare costs tend to be more expensive in London and other major cities, which can drive up premiums.
  • Your occupation: insurers view certain jobs as more likely to lead to accidents or health problems.
  • Your lifestyle: if you smoke or drink, or are overweight, this will be factored in by an insurer and make your premiums more expensive.

The way you choose to pay can also have an impact – paying monthly premiums gives you more flexibility if you want to end your cover, but paying annually tends to be cheaper year-on-year.

Moratorium or full medical underwriting?

When you apply for health insurance they will often ask whether you want ‘moratorium’ underwriting or full medical underwriting. The option that you choose will likely have an impact on how much you pay in premiums.

With a moratorium policy, you will have to give less medical information, usually just a few “yes or no” questions. This tends to be the faster, more convenient option as it requires less admin and fewer checks. Instead, these checks are carried out when you make a claim, which does mean the process of making a claim takes longer. It also means that until this point, you may not know exactly what you are covered for, as your provider will not have the full picture of your medical history.

With full medical underwriting, you complete a full application and provide medical information, as well as possibly give the company permission to consult your GP. It may take longer for cover to commence in this case, but you will know exactly what you are covered for when it starts, and it is often cheaper than a moratorium policy. The claims process itself also tends to be much quicker as a result of your provider already having your medical details.

Any treatment not covered by your policy is called an “exclusion”. Providers are more likely to review and potentially remove exclusions on pre-existing health problems on a moratorium policy, usually after a period of two years, provided you’ve had no symptoms, treatment or medication for that condition. It is less common for this to happen with full medical underwriting, as the terms of the policy are generally permanent.

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How much does health insurance usually cost?

Health insurance rates can vary dramatically, as every individual is different, and almost every provider does things differently and covers different kinds of treatment. Most policies will cost at least a few hundred pounds a year, with some reaching over £1000.

For companies that offer the choice between a moratorium policy and full medical underwriting, the latter option tends to be cheaper. For example, a moratorium policy for a non-smoking 55 year old male in London could cost £529 per year from Vitality and £1,022 from Aviva, while for a full medical underwriting policy, costs would decrease to £522 a year from Vitality and £920 from Aviva. These quotes could increase if you turned out to have a medical condition during their assessment, however, and will vary depending on your individual circumstances.

For a 65 year old, the Vitality prices increase to £731 per year for a moratorium policy and £701 per year for full medical underwriting. From Aviva, they become £1,534 for a moratorium policy and £1,382 for full medical underwriting.

These rates are correct at the time of writing 6/1/23.

Can I reduce my health insurance premiums?

Some health insurance policies will let you change certain preferences when you apply, and doing so could net you savings on your premiums.

Agreeing to pay a larger excess in the event of a claim tends to reduce the cost of cover, but be careful to keep it affordable. For example, a £578 annual policy from Bupa (for a non-smoking male 55 year old) assumes that you pay £250 in excess in the event of a claim. If you opt to pay no excess, premiums increase to £731 per year, while opting for £500 of excess lowers them to £497 per year. 

Some providers will include a “six week wait” option, which stipulates that you’ll only be able to opt for private treatment if the wait time with the NHS is over six weeks. Otherwise, you must use the NHS for treatment. This tends to reduce your premiums because it reduces the likelihood of a claim.

Some policies include options to allow you to specify which hospitals you can be eligible for treatment with. Having a wider range of options – particularly one that includes central London hospitals – tends to increase premiums.

If both you and a partner have private health insurance, you could likely lower the premiums you each have to pay by getting a joint policy instead.

As with anything, the biggest savings come from shopping around and comparing quotes and different deals from several different providers. You don’t have to opt for the policy that covers the most things, as these will tend to be among the most expensive, and remember that getting private medical cover does not disqualify you from using the NHS.

Where to buy private medical insurance

There are two main ways to buy private medical insurance.

You can either go directly to a health insurance provider or you can ask a health insurance broker or advisor to help you find the right cover to suit your needs.

It might seem that buying private health insurance online is the cheapest and quickest option, but there are so many terms and conditions in private health insurance policies that it’s usually a good idea to seek professional advice on the best option to suit your needs.

Get peace of mind that you could be treated quickly and receive the best possible care if you fall ill. Private health insurance pays some or all of your medical costs if you’re treated privately. Compare quotes from multiple providers and get fee-free expert advice.

Do I need private medical insurance?

As everyone’s circumstances are very different, ultimately the only person who can decide whether private medical cover is right for you is yourself. We cannot predict how our health will turn out, so the choice may be based on how confident you feel in your local NHS services, or it may simply be that you would feel more comfortable receiving private care going forwards.

For more information to help you make this decision, read our article Do I need private health insurance?