How do I buy private health insurance? - Buying Private Medical Insurance

To start with, you need to find an insurance company. This is easy to do as they advertise their services in magazines, newspapers, the Internet and other forms of media. They are usually very accessible in that you can contact them, often on a 24/7 basis, either by phone, post, face to face or email.

You have 3 ways of buying private health insurance: via a broker, an insurance company which offers health insurance along with other products and a specialist health insurance company (e.g. BUPA).

Basically, there are companies which specialise in health insurance only whereas others offer this along with other forms of insurance.

Insurance cover is arranged by a broker who will ask you about your medical history.

The bit about whether you need to disclose your medical history is important as it can affect the type of cover available to you. Also, insurance companies have two (usually) ways of assessing your application which you choose from. This process is called ‘underwriting’ and includes the following:

  • Moratorium underwriting
  • Full medical underwriting

Moratorium underwriting is a simpler form of assessment. There is no medical questionnaire to complete or physical examination to undergo.

However, the insurer will automatically exclude any pre-existing conditions, medication and/or treatment in the 5 years leading up to your application. If they do agree to cover a pre-existing condition then this will only start two years after the start of your policy. And, only if you’ve had no symptoms, treatment, tests or medication in that time. 

Note: not all insurance companies offer moratorium underwriting.

Full medical underwriting is as the name says. You will be asked to complete a form about your medical history (medical questionnaire) and those of any dependents you wish to insure. It is important to be frank and honest here as failure to mention something could result in any claim that you make being refused or even the cancellation of your policy.

Pre-existing conditions are usually excluded although you can ask for a review, 2 years after the start of your cover. Insurers will either, permanently refuse to cover a pre-existing condition or for a set period of time (2 years).

The insurance company may ask your GP for further information when reviewing your application and will pass this cost onto you.

Following this, you will then receive full details of your health insurance policy. Read through this very carefully and ask if you don’t understand something in the policy. Once you are happy with this then sign and return the policy.

There are treatments which are not included in a policy but can be purchased as a ‘bolt on’. This will push up the cost of your cover but if it is something you are likely to want, for example, dental cover then ask for it to be included in your policy.  Weigh up the cost of having any extras against your own peace of mind.

You may also want to consider increasing the amount of excess on your policy as this will reduce the cost of your premium. In the event of a claim you will have to pay an excess (similar to other insurance claims, e.g. car) out of your own finances even though the company will pay the rest of the costs.

You will also find that some insurance providers offer ‘family’ policies which enable you to add extra people such as your children whereas others will cater for certain groups in society. These include singletons; couples only or people aged 50+.

What is standard across all of them is the list of exclusions which include chronic or long term conditions and ‘pre-existing’ conditions, for example diabetes. So, health insurance works best for short term illnesses or injuries.

You will be given a 14 day ‘cooling off’ period whereby you will receive a full refund of your premium if you change your mind. But only as long as you haven’t made a claim in that time.

Bear in mind that insurance premiums increase, often due to age or in line with inflation.

Private Medical Insurance Guide:

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