Money Times - November 21, 2017

Posted by Jill Kerby on November 21 2017 @ 09:00



Many commentators believe that spending more money on the public health service will improve services and patient outcomes. Yet billions more has yet more money has been added to the HSE budget for decades, too often with less than sterling effect.

Preventative medicine and early intervention should be getting a higher priority from the HSE especially as our population lives longer. Treating medical conditions associated with old age, not in general hospitals and public care homes, but in local community and in people’s own homes is an important part of the solution. The Department of Health does appear to be trying to introduce new community and home based services but rearguard battles continue against its own expensive bureaucracy and many vested interests.

Fortunately for those 2.1 million members of private health insurance plans, there has been access to preventative health benefits for many years – like benefit payments towards the cost of GP check-ups, early intervention consultations, annual or bi-annual health screenings, physio services and other checks and treatments.

Now, the insurers are coming out with on-line fitness, diet and lifestyle blogs and programmes that app-savvy customers (with high expectations) will easily integrate into everyday lives and schedules.

The latest one is called healthcoach from Laya Healthcare that was launched a week ago, and is a unique, free fitness, diet and wellness programme for every one of their 580,000 customers aged over 18.

First, the customer fills out a short on-line survey (and for the record, I am a long standing Laya customer) and then makes an appointment for a 30 minute face-to -face, health and fitness consultation with a qualified health coach at one of the six, designated healthcoach clinics around the country. (Currently there are three in Dublin and one in Cork, Limerick and Galway.)

I met my coach, a nice friendly guy called Gavin, at the healthcoach centre in the IFSC in Dublin, who took my blood pressure, glucose levels, body composition (which tells you all about how much fat, muscle, bone density, water retention) plus a lung function and three minute fitness test that gives you an idea about cardio performance.

He then asked some more questions about my lifestyle habits, exercise routine and diet and then started to select the elements that will make up my bespoke eight week programme.  The technology is impressive and within a few minutes it all appeared on my healthcoach smart-phone app.

The app, which is easier to use (and very logical) than I expected, includes a Fitbit step-counter, a large range of healthy eating recipes and calorie counters for every meal and snack you are encouraged to eat as well as a huge range of short ‘live’ videos on everything from how to give up smoking to, or in my case, even how do the two recommended yoga exercises I’m supposed to do three times a week. Dieticians on healthy eating choices and how check my calorie intake.

There are also videos pep talks from qualified psychologists on how to keep my motivation up (reading is my favourite activity of all time) and how to keep at the (tiny) fitness challenges I’ve set with my coach. I’m not a gym or sporty person, so mine are based around walking a lot more and extra cardio work I can do around the house, but keen hillwalkers and runners get help on how to complete the Ring of Kerry, Hadrian’s Wall, Inca Trail or Camino Challenges. 

Signing up for healthcoach ‘challenges’ also unlocks your ‘healthy’ reward offers and retail discounts from the likes of Lifestyle Sports, Eason and Deliveroo.

Recently Irish Life Health launched their new fitness and wellness benefit to their ‘Benefit’ plan holders - all three plans cost under €1,000 a year and are popular with younger customers. It offers refunds up to €250 refund a year when those plan members sign up for individual fitness programmes, or a combination of visits to life coach, nutritionist or dietician, for sports club membership or fitness wearable, massage treatments.

“Younger ILH members will appreciate getting some money back,” Dermot Goode, of TotalHealthCover.ie the independent health insurance adviser told me last week. “But the big attraction of Laya’s healthcoach is that it is an automatic, free benefit for every adult customer, no matter their policy, and it includes that one-to-one, face-to-face personal consultation.

“Laya has spent a vast amount of money and time on this new automatic benefit,” said Goode, “because they know that ultimately, healthier customers make fewer, less expensive claims.” 

Up to now, the health insurers have mostly been targeting their big corporate customers with their wellness programmes. They’re now focussing on individual customers.

So I’m going to give my eight week healthcoach programme my best shot. My fitness and weight loss goals are extremely modest and do-able.

Best of all, the price is just right.

The 2018 TAB Guide to Money Pensions & Tax will be appearing in bookshops and on line soon. See www.tab.ie for ebook edition.


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