MoneyTimes - August 6, 2013

Posted by Jill Kerby on August 06 2013 @ 09:00

HEALTH INSURERS HIKE PRICES - AGAIN When’s the best time to announce bad news? A bank holiday weekend is a good choice and no one uses this hoary old PR device better than governments and, yes, health insurance companies that are raising their premiums again. Last week as I was checking out the Health Insurance Association website www.hia.ie on behalf of a reader with a travel health query (more on that below) I noticed that the HIA was flagging a number of price changes. In the case of VHI, they have raised the cost of premiums on five PMI plans (these are PMI 10 11, PMI 11 12, PMI 1411, PMI 16 11, PMI 29 12) by 2% from August 1 and within these plans they have eliminated seven private hospitals and clinics in Cork, Galway, Tralee and Waterford from those covered by these policies for all new and renewing customers. Laya are also raising premiums from August 1 on their Health Smart and Health Smart Family plans – by a whopping 25% - with increases of €244.12 and €307.12 respectively, but it is also reducing the cost of its Simply Health Starter and Family Care child and student plans by nearly 6% -6.5% respectively. Meanwhile, from August 22, the cost of the PMI 18 11 for adults will rise from €973.78 to €1011.11 or about 4% and premiums for children aged 1-3 will go from €339.50 to €352.22 per child and students from €369.11 to €384.45. Gone are the Hermitage Medical Clinic in Dublin and the Galway Clinic private hospitals for new and existing plan holders. 
 The VHI, Laya, Glohealth and Aviva are all introducing new and revised plans this month too, some with small, worthwhile changes to existing benefits and excesses but usually in exchange for something else, whether a slight premium hike and/or the loss of certain private hospitals and clinics. (This is mainly to mitigate the higher costs the insurers face for patients who are treated in public hospitals.) That no one has noticed these changes in August is not unusual since we are still deep into the summer holiday season, but what so many of the nearly two million holders of health insurance don’t realize is that while most renewals still talk place early in the year, new products, benefit changes and price hikes are happening continuously now as the five providers compete especially for the hugely important corporate market. It’s also why the most competitively priced plans continue to be offered in the corporate sector, which the insurers do not advertise outside that sector; you need to know the name of the corporate policy equivalent of the one sold to individuals if you want the (inevitably) better price point. And while the HIA website lists all live plans and will let you compare benefits, the volume and complexity of policies listed means you should be using a health insurance specialist broker when you renewal date approaches. Meanwhile, that health insurance question I was researching for a reader may interest many of you, lucky, like this woman and her husband to be in their early 60s, newly retired, and hoping to set off on an extended holiday to Europe, basing themselves in France. Her question was what they should do about health cover since their private policy only covered 31 day duration trips. Her husband, she said, had two health conditions, both of which were being successfully treated. This lady was right to be questioning her overseas travel benefits, as we all should whether your trip lasts 31 days, or the more typical week or two. The benefits provided by your PHI in the event of an accident or emergency are quite substantial, despite the 31 day single trip rule, and include repatriating you home and even covering some of the costs of a companion when you are in hospital and being treated. But cover only includes in-patient care: if you break an arm and are treated in a day clinic, the cost of treatment is yours, not the insurers’. Catching the flu and receiving a house call is not covered, nor are prescriptions costs, etc. Most importantly of all, however, is that the health insurer does not have to pay anything if you do not clear the treatment with them first. You must contact your provider, via the emergency number they issue all members, immediately, or get the person travelling with you to do so. Sole travellers, unless they are unconscious, need to find someone to contact the emergency line for them or the nearest embassy or consulate. The way around the 31 day rule – and the other limitations of private health plans – is, of course to take out a good travel policy that also includes health cover. Travel insurance usually covers 60-90 days duration trips so you will have to return home – even for a day – if you want to ensure coverage. Anyone with a chronic disease should be aware of pre-existing condition clauses: if you have a bad heart and have a heart attack abroad, a treatment claim will almost certainly be rejected. Finally, be aware of the limitations to the EHIC, the European Health Insurance Card that should take with you. It only allows you free medical care in state owned health facilities, not private clinics or doctor’s surgeries and you may have to pay for the treatment (as in France) and reclaim the cost when you get home, so again, keep all your receipts.

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