Private heath care doesn't have to be expensive. While prices have been rising in recent years, you can personalise your policy to bring the cost down.

Here are some ways to cut the cost of a private medical policy. Just make sure you read the small print to ensure you understand what's included and what isn't.

Shop around

Shop around between different insurers to see if you can get the same level of cover for less or use a broker to do the legwork for you.

Change your cover level

Most insurers offer three levels of cover: comprehensive, standard and budget. Budget plans trim your costs by excluding outpatient treatment such as initial diagnostics and consultations, which you can get free on the NHS if you’re prepared to wait. But you are still fully covered for serious inpatient treatment for anything from a hip replacement to cancer care. Alternatively, choose a plan targeting specific illnesses such as heart disease or cancer. 

Excesses and no-claims

When you take out motor insurance, you can cut your premium by agreeing to pay the first £50 or £100 (or more) of any claim. The same principle applies with health cover. A small excess of just £100 or £250 could slice 10% to 20% off your premiums. Some insurers take the principle to extremes, with excesses in the thousands. The higher the excess, the lower your premium. This means you are only likely to claim for major illnesses.

Many insurers also offer no-claims discounts, which can hack up to two-thirds off your premiums. Just make sure you're not put off claiming vital treatment by the prospect of losing your no claims.

A-list or C-list?

Some insurance plans offer you access to every private hospital in the country, including central London teaching hospitals. This is sometimes called the A-list or Band A. That’s great if you can afford it, but you can save money by limiting your choice to cheaper B-list or C-list private hospitals, or even NHS pay-beds (Band D).

Six-week option

Some insurers offer a 'six-week clause'. If the local NHS waiting list for your condition is less than six weeks, you must get your treatment on the NHS. If the waiting list is longer, you go private straight away.

Co-payment

Co-payment or shared responsibility plans cut your premiums if you agree to pay a share of any treatment costs. Insurers believes this helps cut frivolous claims, and pass on the savings to you. 

Some insurers pay part of your premium into a deposit account in your name, with the remainder set aside to fund any treatment. When you claim, you pay a percentage of the cost from your personal deposit account and the insurer pays the rest, up to cover limits. If you don’t claim, the money in the deposit account is yours (although the account doesn’t pay interest).

[Related story: Why life insurance can be cheaper than you think]

Other ways to save

There are plenty of other innovative plans available. Some insurers provide you with a pot of money for necessary medical treatment. You can either spend this on private treatment, or seek treatment on the NHS and pocket the cash instead.

Others offer you reward points for healthy living, such as eating salads and going to the gym, which reduce your premiums.

Finally, there is nothing stopping you from setting up your own savings fund to cover private treatment, and self-pay at a private hospital chain if the NHS waiting list for your condition is far too long.

Get a free, no obligation private health care quote via lovemoney.com