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How to buy health insurance

In this guide, we’re explaining how to buy a health insurance policy and our top tips that might help you along the way

A photo of Dom Limberg, the author

By Dom Limberg

Published on: 25 March 2023

8 min read

How to buy health insurance

‘How do you buy health insurance?’ might seem like a basic question, but many people aren’t too sure what to do when buying health insurance. This could be because they’ve never bought it before, are switching to a new provider or just need a bit of extra guidance.

This is nothing to be embarrassed about and we’re here to answer all the main questions people have about buying a new health insurance policy. This includes where to find it, how to compare the best deals and what to do if you’re completely stuck and not sure of your best options.

Should I buy health insurance?

Initially, you might wonder if health insurance is even the right choice for you. Whether you decide to buy a policy is up to you, but health insurance has grown in popularity significantly over the last few years.

Is it hard to buy health insurance?

Buying health insurance shouldn’t be an overly difficult job. It can be confusing though if you’ve never done it before and don’t know what you need or what to look out for.

UK health insurance providers vary massively in how they structure their policies and the benefits that are on offer. This means it can be tricky to compare policies to work out what is your best choice.

You could try price comparison sites to get a quick estimation of costs. It’s also useful to spend some time looking at the provider’s websites to see if they mention things like discounts or offers. If budget is something you are worried about, many insurers offer things like 10% discounts for family policies or money off gym memberships as an added bonus.

How do I know I’m buying the right health insurance?

There isn’t one ‘right’ health insurance policy. We’re all different, so what works for someone else might not be the best choice for you.

What we would suggest is to:

  1. Decide what benefits are most important to you e.g. mental health cover, outpatient cover etc.
  2. Get recommendations from friends or family members who have health insurance
  3. Do proper research and assess all your options before making a decision
  4. Think about if you want cover just for you or for your whole family (family health insurance)
  5. Decide if you would like a provider that offers lots of extra benefits as standard? (e.g. gym discounts, free health checks)

Thinking about these things may help you to narrow down your options when looking for a health insurance policy. If you are more interested in family health insurance for example, you could end up looking at different providers than if you need cover just for yourself.

How to buy health insurance

Now, we have come down to the main question which is how do you buy a health insurance policy. The first thing to do is to decide on your budget and what you would like covered specifically.

You can choose more limited plans or to remove certain benefits that you don’t need to help cut costs. Make a list of everything you feel is most important to be covered for (e.g. inpatient care, consultations, cancer care) and benefits you could do without if it’s too expensive.

Here’s the next steps to buying health insurance (without loads of unnecessary hassle):

  1. Google it – this might seem obvious, but a good first step can just be to have a look around at what websites pop up when you search for health insurance. This can give you an idea of which insurers provide these policies and what they are offering.
  2. Research – this follows on from searching for providers. Have a closer look at their descriptions of their policies and what is covered, to help you make a short list of suitable policies.
  3. Compare – Compare everything you have looked at so far. At this point it can be useful to use a price comparison website (though this won’t always give you all your options and mainly focuses on price). Popular choices include MoneySuperMarket or Compare the Market.
  4. Get some help – You can skip straight to this step if you’re short on time or don’t want to do all the work yourself. Talking to a health insurance broker can help you save time and money. They will quickly compare all the policies on offer and explain all your options to you.
  5. Apply – You can submit a health insurance application directly to the provider, through a price comparison website or through an independent broker. At this point you will be asked a few medical questions (if you choose full medical underwriting).
  6. Get a decision and buy – Unless you choose full medical underwriting, you will normally receive a decision pretty quickly about whether the insurer will cover you. Then all you will need to do is set up your payment method (e.g. Direct Debit) and when you want to pay (monthly or annually) and you’re good to go.

If you need family health insurance, you will follow the same process as above but there will be some other factors you need to know about.

  1. The price will be based on the age of everyone on the policy
  2. Your children will only be covered until a certain age (and this can vary hugely depending on the insurer you choose)
  3. You might be able to grab a great discount or extra benefits because you are applying for a family plan

Business health insurance is often thought of as an attractive employee benefit, by covering private healthcare for your workforce. It also helps to reduce employee sickness absence and get unwell staff members back into work more quickly.

If you want to buy health insurance for your business, there will be some extra things to consider.

  1. How big is your business? Available plans will usually be based on the number of employees you want to cover
  2. How much can you afford to spend?
  3. Not all insurers will sell business health insurance so your options can be more limited

Buying group health insurance policies (e.g. business health insurance), just means you need to think about covering multiple people and their individual healthcare needs.

Frequently asked questions about buying health insurance

Here are the most commonly asked questions about buying health insurance in the UK.

What is ‘underwriting’?

Underwriting is a term that comes up very often when people apply for health insurance (and other insurance policies). When a health insurance company ‘underwrites’, it is how they assess how much risk it is to insure the person who is applying. Simply put, it’s how the insurer decides how likely you are to claim and if they are willing to offer you a policy.

For health insurance there are 2 main types of underwriting:

  1. Moratorium underwriting: this is the most popular option as you tend to get covered more quickly. You won’t need to answer any medical questions and it’s possible pre-existing conditions could be covered in the future (if you are symptom and treatment free).
  2. Full medical underwriting: this involves questions about your medical history and in some cases a report from your GP. This gives the insurer as much medical information as possible, so they can decide what they will and won’t cover. This can be a good option for people with medical conditions, as if they can’t claim for certain conditions their pricing should be lower so it’s fair.

Note: Insurers won’t usually cover treatment for chronic conditions (life long medical conditions). They normally focus on care for acute conditions (curable conditions you can recover from).

What are ‘hospital lists’?

When you choose your policy, you’ll normally be asked what hospital list you would like. A hospital list is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a list of hospitals and specialists that your insurers approves for you to have treatment with (after you claim). Insurers will usually have a few different lists you can choose from.

As you might expect, if you choose a list with more hospitals on this means a higher level of cover so you will pay more.

Some insurers will offer a ‘guided’ option as well. This is a cheaper option, as you will be given a short list of specialists for your care when you claim instead of choosing from a full list.

What is the best health insurance to buy?

There are loads of good options for health insurance policies and the ‘best’ one will depend on you and your own situation. The best way to buy affordable health insurance with the right benefits is to do some research or get extra advice.

If you need family health insurance, you could be better looking at a certain insurer compared to someone looking for business or company health insurance.

We recently put together our list of the top health insurance providers for 2023. This list is based on value for money, customer service and the benefits of each policy.

More information – What is the best private health insurance 2023?

How much does UK health insurance cost?

There isn’t one set price for UK health insurance policies. Every insurer will price their policies slightly differently. These are the main factors that will affect how much you pay.

  • Your age
  • Where you live (postcode)
  • How much excess you agree to pay?
  • Additional benefits (anything extra you add to your policy)
  • Hospital list (basic or enhanced cover)

You can pay annually or pay monthly for your health insurance premiums, depending on what works best for you.

Can you buy health insurance in the UK?

Yes, health insurance is widely available in the UK. Though we don’t rely on health insurance and private care like other countries (e.g. America), there are several UK providers that offer health insurance policies.

The main health insurance providers in the UK are:

Is private healthcare better than the NHS?

This is a matter of opinion. What we will say is that private healthcare can often be quicker to access and can provide drugs and treatments that aren’t available on the NHS yet.

Private health insurance helps to cover the cost of private treatment. It’s important to remember though, that health insurance is designed to complement the care provided by the NHS. It isn’t there to replace it completely and many policies will not cover ‘primary care’, which is usually your first appointment and diagnosis with your own GP.

What does private health insurance cover?

When you buy a health insurance plan, you will be able to tailor your cover to how much you need and how much you can afford.

You can choose a more basic policy, which will cover inpatient treatments like surgery and fees for staying in hospital. Some health insurance companies offer more comprehensive cover and include cover for things like physiotherapy or dental care. Health insurance policies can cover a wide range of situations and treatments like:

  • Diagnostic tests
  • Private hospital rooms
  • Cancer cover (treatment and care)
  • Mental health support (usually an optional extra)

What if I need help buying health insurance?

The best and easiest way to buy private health insurance is by speaking to a specialist or broker. This lets you easily compare different policies from the UK’s top medical insurance companies to see which options are affordable for you.

There are a lot of options which can be confusing when looking for the right option for you, your family or your business.

For help and guidance, you can call our expert health insurance partners on 0800 009 6559 or click here.

Useful health insurance guides

Here more useful MPO news articles and guides about health insurance and health related topics.

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