Top 10 Health Insurance Companies

health insurance companies uk - shieldwise
by shieldwise

As we continue to live in a year of lockdown, the COVID-19 virus has left many NHS hospitals filled. This may cause you to be interested in health insurance companies. With reports suggest that between March 2020 and February 2021, there were more than 100 million visitors at designated NHS medical sites when compared to the previous year. Of these visits, 59.5 million patients were reporting coronavirus-related symptoms. The presence of this global pandemic has resulted in an increased level of public attention to health and wellbeing like never before. This increased level of awareness has led many people to begin exploring the idea of investing in health insurance.

Providing cover to help address most medical needs, the decision to acquire health insurance is one that can prove quite difficult. While on the surface it may be easy to type in health insurance into google and apply for the first quote you find, it is important to understand what companies offer the best services.

To help you better understand what companies offer the best services in the health insurance industry, we at ShieldWise have conducted an easy-to-read review of the top 10 insurance providers in the UK.


10. Aviva

Founded in 1696, Aviva is the largest of the health insurance companies in the UK With over 15 million customers, Aviva has been able to acquire a fair share of the health insurance market with its ‘Healthier Solution’ product. Arguably one of its best products, the Healthier Solution package is a health insurance product that offers prompt private medical treatment through a nationwide network of private hospitals.

Recently achieving a 5-star defaqto rating in 2020, this comprehensive health insurance policy has won over many plaudits for its flexibility and decision to provide full outpatient cover as well as standard in patient protection. Giving policyholder’s the freedom to change different aspects of their cover, Aviva allows customers to tailor their individual health insurance plans to suit their needs and requirements. From offering the option to include dental care to being able to increase or decrease the number of hospitals available to a client, Healthier Solution owners can benefit from creating their ideal insurance plan in a matter of minutes.

Aviva Policy Highlights

  • Access to hundreds of private hospitals nationwide
  • Virtual GP consultation
  • Cancer cover care is included in the standard inpatient protection
  • 24-hour stress counselling helpline
  • 25% gym membership discount
  • Ability to tailor your insurance plan to meet your budgetary and coverage needs
bupa - shieldwise


BUPA is perhaps the best-known provider of health insurance in the UK. Synonymous for the service they offer, BUPA’s ‘Bupa By You’ is a health insurance package that provides high-quality health cover for individuals, couples, families and children. While the range of policies BUPA offers is smaller than most competitors, they make up for it with a highly favoured approach to comprehensive insurance policies.

Leading the industry with its comprehensive approach to health cover, Bupa By You covers both in and outpatient private healthcare treatment and diagnosis. Meaning policyholders of the Bupa By You package can receive coverage where they can receive a diagnosis from the NHS and get privately treated via BUPA. This willingness to allow clients to make use of both services serves to highlight BUPA’s understanding of what clients want.

Accountable for 80% of the industry’s market share, BUPA’s market-leading position includes ownership of medical facilities that range from hospitals to care homes. This broad ownership of different medical facilities allows them to offer good rates that are both competitive and affordable.

BUPA Policy Highlights

  • Quicker medical diagnosis and treatment for critical illnesses
  • Access to drugs and therapies not available on the NHS
  • Virtual GP consultation available 24/7
  • A cancer promise, where BUPA are committed to pay for any eligible cancer costs in full
  • Mental health care and therapy sessions

8. Vitality

Previously known as PruHealth, Vitality is recognised by the public for its use of British Olympic stars for its advertisement. Often described as an innovative provider of health insurance, Vitality has accumulated massive recognition for its new approaches to health insurance services. Titled ‘Personal Healthcare’, Vitality’s health insurance service combines the features of normal health insurance policy’s (inpatient and outpatient cover) with a set of discounts and rewards that encourage partaking in healthy activities.

Adopting an approach that aims to reduce claim rates by increasing the health of policyholders, Vitality has been able to achieve multiple awards including a 5-star Defaqto Rating. Typically, a 5-star rating by Defaqto means a product is “excellent with a comprehensive range of features and benefits”. Rather than adopting the normal set of levels that most insurance companies make use of, Vitality allows clients to tailor cover to their own needs and demands. With this level of flexibility, clients have the freedom to decide the level of cover they want for several categories, including outpatient treatment, psychiatric care and dental cover.

Vitality Policy Highlights

  • High customer satisfaction score
  • Cancer cover is included in the standard cover plan.
  • 50% discount on many healthy activities such as Virgin Gym, Evans Cycles etc.
  • Free Apple Watch
  • Oral Surgery services available
  • 24/7 Private GP helpline

7. AXA

Founded in 1940 by a group of hospitals and doctors that wanted to help middle-income earners access expert medical care, AXA is the second-largest health insurance provider in the UK. Staying true to the beliefs that led to its conception, AXA offers a variety of policy options that range from basic inpatient cover to comprehensive full treatment cover. Earning a “Platinum Trusted Service Award” in 2020, AXA’s Core health insurance cover is considered by many to be one of the best affordable insurance plans in the market. For clients that wish for a better plan, they can make use of the add-ons available at AXA.

Rivaling BUPA in its level of comprehensive cover and options, clients that use AXA have access to an in-depth catalogue of add-ons that include out-patient cover, therapy, mental health cover, ‘extra care’ cover (which includes home care, chiropody and oral surgery), dentistry, cancer care, optician’s cashback and even travel insurance. Highlighting their commitment to offer satisfactory services, clients of AXA can opt for the 6-week option to reduce the cost of premium they may be required to pay for cover. By opting for the 6-week plan, clients agree to receive treatment from the NHS treatment if the waiting list is not longer than 6 weeks. This service is typically ideal for customers that want health insurance as a ‘worst-case scenario’ safety net.

AXA Policy Highlights

  • Option to opt for the 6-week plan to reduce premium price.
  • Access to over 200 hospitals
  • Extensive heart and cancer cover
  • No limit on out-patient surgery claims
  • In-depth catalogue of add-ons

6. Freedom Health Insurance

A relatively young name on the list of health insurance companies when compared to the names on this list, Freedom Health Insurance was established in 2003 and has since then gone on to make a name for itself in the insurance world. Dedicated to the provision of high-quality medical cover, Freedom Health looks to refrain from adjusting its premium prices based on the location of clients. A feature not shared by many insurance providers, this commitment to offer a fixed premium regardless of location means that all clients pay the same affordable price regardless of whether they live in the capital.

For the best level of protection Freedom has to offer, clients can opt for the Freedom Elite plan. Arguably the best product Freedom has to offer, this policy gives clients comprehensive in and outpatient cover. Making the decision to not use location as a factor to determine premium rates, medical costs for this insurance plan are settled directly with the hospital. Comprehensive in its nature, the Freedom Elite package comes with a cancer cover guarantee and the option to receive cover for alternative therapies such as podiatry, which is not covered by the NHS.

Freedom Health Insurance Policy Highlights

  • No location pricing.
  • Full inpatient annual benefit
  • Day patient cover
  • Cancer cover as standard
  • No increase in renewal premium for making claims
WPA health insurance quotes - shieldwise

5. WPA

Smaller in size when compared to the other companies on this list, WPA is the only health insurance provider to have a not-for-profit business background. Spanning 110 years of service, WPA’s voluntary background has helped to mould its ethos to offer great customer service and remain transparent in its actions. To harbour a sense of trust in its clients, WPA is currently the only insurer to volunteer details of any ombudsman complaints leveraged against it.

Innovative in its approach to private health policies, WPA has been able to increase its level of exposure in the insurance market by launching its multi-family policy. Different from most family health insurance plans, this policy allows clients to create a plan that covers both immediate and extended family members. Deriving this idea from its time operating as a non-profit organisation, this approach and willingness to provide to coverage to big families has been wholly welcomed by the many family-oriented cultures that reside in the UK.

For clients not looking for a family insurance policy, WPA also offers a flexible health insurance package that allows users to choose from three levels of cover, Essentials, Premier and Elite. For the best private healthcare insurance product WPA has to offer, individuals are encouraged to opt for the Elite level product which includes full in and outpatient cover.

WPA Policy Highlights

  • Policy flexibility to tailor to your needs and budget
  • Extensive cover and a large hospital list
  • Inpatient and day-patient cover included as standard
  • Full outpatient cover on their Elite package
  • Unlimited annual benefit limit on their Elite Package
health-on-line insurance quotes - shieldwise

4. Health-On-Line

Another relatively young health insurance provider, Health-On-Line was established in 2000 with the aim to change the way the public sees and uses health insurance. To achieve this, Health-On-Line has adopted a more flexible approach to health insurance that gives policyholders more control over their cover plan. Making use of a module and choice system, clients have the opportunity to tailor a cover plan that meets their needs. By adopting this method of service, Health-On-Line has been able to promote an easier and more accessible approach to health insurance that has generated large success over the years.

As a result of this success, Health-On-Line was acquired by AXA in 2010 and now acts as a subsidiary of health insurance companies that has access to all of AXA’s resources. With this increase in resources, Health-On-Line has been able to increase the number of claims they can meet and the variety of health insurance products they can offer.

For example, unlike most insurers on this list, Health-On-Line is one of the few to offer a cover plan designed for heart and cancer cover. Simply titled Heart & Cancer Cover, this policy is specifically designed to provide cover and support to clients that suffer from a heart condition or have been diagnosed with cancer. While many insurers have cancer cover included in their standard packages, many do not offer sufficient cover for cases that deal with heart conditions.

Health-On-Line Policy Highlights

  • Flexible comprehensive medical cover
  • Access to all 250 UK hospitals owned by AXA
  • Day patient and inpatient cover
  • Heart & Cancer Cover plan
  • 24/7 nurse hotline
  • Limit of three specialist consultations per year


Ideally, health insurance is a policy you should be able to invest in at any age, however, this is not the case. Most health insurance providers have a maximum age limit where clients are no longer eligible to apply for coverage – this is normally between the ages of 60 and 80. To address this niche in the market, Saga is one of the health insurance companies that specialise in offering health cover to clients over the age of 50. With a diverse range of products, Saga has been able to acquire a defaqto score of 5 for its Saga Super HealthPlan.

Arguably one of the best over 50’s health insurance products on the market, Saga’s Super is a policy that covers both in-patient and out-patient treatment as well as diagnosis. Due to the level of frailty that comes with providing cover for the older generation, this policy has no limit on the number of surgeon fees, hospital fees, cancer treatments and diagnostic tests that can be claimed in a year.

Additionally, due to the likelihood of some clients being out of work and retired, Saga provides a few options that applicants can take to reduce their premiums. One of these options is the use of a 4-week wait service instead of the typical 6-week period offered by most insurance companies. This service guarantees cover if the NHS waiting list for a procedure or diagnostic is over 4-weeks of service. Being a subsidiary of AXA, making use of this insurance policy provides you with access to all the hospitals under AXA but with a shorter waiting period.

Saga Policy Highlights

  • 4-week waiting period
  • Access to AXA 200 nationwide hospitals
  • Outpatient consultation and treatment included as standard.
  • No limits on claims
  • Second opinion consultation service
  • Tailor-made for over 50’s

2. The Exeter

Previously known as Exeter Family Friendly, The Exeter is one of the health insurance companies that has remained influential since its conception in 1927. Providing a variety of products from health insurance to life and income protection policies, Exeter has been able to establish itself amongst in the insurance market as one of the most reliable providers.

The Exeter’s most successful product is its health insurance product called Health+. Adopting a comprehensive approach similar to Health-On-Line, this product gives the policyholders more control and flexibility over their cover plan. At the base of each of their products, The Exeter is determined to offer a pathway to receiving high-quality treatment in a timely manner. To ensure this service is met, the Health+ comes with compete cancer cover, private ambulance service, home nursing, post-operative physiotherapy, and an NHS cash benefit. Recently, to help give more freedom to clients, The Exeter has given clients the option to add unlimited outpatient diagnostics to their insurance plan.

Additionally, to show their level of commitment to providing the best customer service, all Health+ policyholders can also opt for parental accommodation if their child is required to receive treatment over a prolonged period. This service guarantees that the parent of a child receiving some form of treatment has a place to stay nearby.

The Exeter Policy Highlights

  • Post Operation Therapy feature
  • Parental Accommodation
  • Unlimited in-patient and day-patient treatment
  • Home nursing service
  • Comprehensive and flexible cover services
  • Access to a private ambulance

1. Permanent Health Company

The least recognisable name of the 10, the Permanent Health Company has been providing health insurance cover to people since 1994. Recently becoming a subsidiary of AXA PPP, most of the products that Permanent offer are underwritten by AXA to offer some of the best cover in the market. Unlike many providers, Permanent Health Company aims to provide a simple product that cuts through the complexity of the health insurance market and highlights the accessibility of health insurance cover.

For this reason, Permanent Health Company only offers two levels of cover – Plan 1 and Plan 2. Both levels provide extensive cover for in-patient and out-patient treatments, diagnostics and chemotherapy. However, where they differ is the greater level of coverage Plan 1 offers for specific out-patient treatments and complementary medicine (chiropractic, osteopathy, homeopathy & acupuncture). Additionally, Plan 1 offers a larger NHS cash benefit (£6000 max) when compared to Plan 2 (£2000 max).

Though small in recognition, this approach to health insurance has earned both Plan 1 and Plan 2 health insurance products a 5-star defaqto rating. Building its identity around simplicity, Permanent Health Company has been able to establish a reputation for itself as a viable alternative to the other big names in the industry.

Permanent Health Company Policy Highlights

  • Simplistic approach to insurance
  • NHS Cash Benefit of up to £6,000
  • Extensive cover for in-patient and out-patient treatment standard
  • Cover for complementary treatment

Choosing the right health insurance provider

When it comes to health insurance, it is important that you weigh your options before investing some level of your income into a plan. While on the surface it may seem easy to choose a protection plan from one of the top insurance providers in the UK, this is easier said than done.

As mentioned in the list, many providers have their own approach to health insurance that influences how their diverse range of products operate. For this reason, selecting a policy offered by various insurance providers can be challenging, given the spread of variances in features and prices. For example, Saga’s approach to offering services that meet the needs of an older demographic may not be beneficial for a young adult.

To find the appropriate health insurance provider for you, it may be important to carry out certain actions before you begin investing your money in a policy that you may regret later. These actions include:

  • Assess if you actually need health insurance or if you can make do with the services offered by the NHS.
  • Determine how much money you want to allocate towards health insurance. Health insurance can be a serious financial drain if you are not careful as premiums rise after every annual review.
  • Identify what you want from your insurance plan. It is important to understand what you want from your insurance policy and what kind of cover you want.
  • Assess if it is worth exploring other alternatives like Critical Illness Life cover
  • Determine if you are willing to pay a higher excess or incorporate a waiting period into your policy to reduce the price.
  • Find out if your employer may offer health insurance already. Since the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic many businesses have began to invest in employee health care.
  • Determine how many hospitals you want access to – a smaller list can lead to a smaller premium.
  • List five to six of the insurance providers that really caught your attention when reading.

Wrapping it up

Consider making use of our comparison service. With a greater understanding of the insurance market, we have designed a comparison service that helps customers find the ideal insurance provider quickly and effectively.

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Categories: Health Insurance