Money Times - December 13, 2016
Posted by Jill Kerby on December 13 2016 @ 09:00
MISSING RENEWAL DEADLINE MEANS AUTOMATICALLY HIGHER NEW YEAR PREMIUMS
Nearly half the customers (45%) with a private health insurance policy will have a renewal date in January 2017 claims the Central Bank, which regulates the industry. After your Christmas credit card statement, it will probably be the least welcome bill you will pay as the New Year dawns.
But as patients waiting for a public hospital operation or to see a specialist can attest - that number has reached the 550,000+ mark – an insurance plan is the difference between endless frustration and diminishing health, and timely, efficient treatment in a comfortable, calm, clean facility.
The Central Bank study focusses on renewals, with 85% of consumers “renewing the same policy with the same provider”. Auto-renewal by-passes consumers making contact with their insurance provider “to ensure that they are being offered the most suitable cover available to meet their individual needs and circumstances.”
Happy days then for VHI, Laya Healthcare and Irish Life Health (which was created out of the merger of iAviva and GloHealth.) With such a tiny market, the Central Bank’s warning to shop around is all the more important if you want to avoid overpaying next year.
But this isn’t exactly news. Specialist health insurance advisers like Dermot Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie, a regular contributor on national and regional radio stations has been urging everyone with health insurance for years (that’s over two million of us) to never just grin and bear an annual price hike or allow your plan to automatically roll over.
“Anyone who still has the same policy for even two years is paying too much,” is Goode’s familiar mantra. Anyone who is still paying for the old VHI Plan B (and higher) or Laya’s HealthManager variation plans from several years ago is unnecessarily paying astronomical premiums.
These are the consumers Goode suggests who are often older and clearly wealthier (but not necessarily smarter) than a typical younger person or young parents on a restricted budge. They clearly haven’t checked out the market and especially the corporate versions of their own plans which are often re-designed for large companies. Under our Lifetime Community Rating pricing system, every plan on the market must be available to everyone and not just to a business client and their employees.
Anyone still on the old comprehensive Laya HealthManager plan, which my husband and I had when it first came out and kept for many years until the price went through the roof, is now paying a whopping €355 a month or €4,262 a year! I frequently meet such people during my personal finance seminars.
I’m still with Laya (which grew out of the original Bupa Ireland that broke the VHI’s monopoly in 1996.) But my current policy, Simply Connect Plus, which also offers great private hospital cover and day to day expenses, only costs us €1,160 each though it’s price (without the usual affiliation group discount) now costs €1,246. I know my premium will be at least that next July, so I will shop around again using Dermot Goode’s website tools.
Health Manager is a great plan, but not great enough to justify paying €8,527 a year for the two of us. The biggest difference between the two – as far as I am concerned – is that I must not pay a modest, but only once in a year excess for an in-patient event. Our bill until next July if we stick with Simply Connect Plus will be least €2,500. Expensive? Sure. Extravagant? No.
Dermot Goode insists that there is still some pretty good value in the health insurance market if you are willing to take the time to the kind of cover you want and how much you can afford to pay. You can use the comparison tools on the HIA.ie or providers’ websites, but there are hundreds of plans to confuse you. Use a good broker (of which there are many specialising in healthcare.)
Finally, here’s two vital tips: Do your children need to be on your plan. No. You can buy suitable ones for them (kids go free deals are back, so check them out) that will be much cheaper than an adult one. A big attraction of the new Irish Life Health plans is the free on-line GP consultations; families on tight budgets and working parents are already finding this benefit a godsend.
Are the very cheap, lowest level, public hospital access only plans worth having? You won’t get a private bed, they usually don’t cover specialists or provide other out-patient benefits. At the very least you want a plan that lets you jump long consultants queues and private hospital treatment (including daytime A&E emergencies).
Yes, the run up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve are busy times but give yourself a head start on 2017 by adding one more shopping trip – for as low a health insurance bill as possible.
Do you have a question for Jill? Please email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.