Making Cents: Don’t let your health suffer because of crisis

Making Cents: Don’t let your health suffer because of crisis

Gráinne McGuinness looks at how the health insurance industry is responding to the Covid-19 crisis

Like the motor insurance industry (which I covered last week), the health insurance industry is responding to changes wrought by the current Covid-19 pandemic.

The changes to healthcare provision in Ireland have been immense, with the Government making the decision in March to make 19 private hospitals part of the public health system for the duration of the pandemic.

This added approximately 2,000 beds, additional laboratory space and thousands of staff to the public system in Ireland, ramping up its capability to deal with an influx of patients.

But it has also led to much confusion and concern among patients with private healthcare.

I spoke to the Health Insurance Authority, the regulator of the private health insurance market in Ireland, who acknowledged they had received more queries as a result Covid-19.

The key point the authority wanted to get across is that providers have put support in place for their customers and the HIA advises individuals to check these with their own insurance company.

As with motor insurance, there are differences between the responses of the individual companies.

“The new measures introduced include a range of support for consumers and the HIA advises individuals to check with their own insurance company to find out the measures that will be available to them,” a spokesperson said.

Additional help is available from the authority.

“Consumers who have concerns about their individual policies can contact our consumer advisors at where we will be happy to help answer any questions consumers may have,” they added.

The HIA have worked closely with the Department of Health, health insurers, the HSE and the Central Bank to help clarify uncertainty around private health insurance due to the effects of Covid-19 and we welcome the measures put in place by insurers in relation to Covid-19.

“The HIA also advises consumers to check with their insurer to clarify what is covered by their policy to find out what services are available to them. Some providers have extended the provision of additional services for a three period at no extra cost. The HIA advises consumers to contact their insurer to check whether they are entitled to additional services.” 

The HIA also pointed out that no action is needed on the part of the consumer, many of whom should have already seen the benefit of the supports, in the forms of rebates or return of a portion of their monthly premiums.

But many individuals and households in Ireland have had their finances negatively affected by the Covid-19 and the restrictions put in place to limit its spread. Last week, I described ways motorists could suspend their cover and claim money back from their insurer as a result.

But the same cannot be advised for private health insurance. As the HIA explains, anyone who allows their health insurance to lapse for more than 13 weeks may have to serve their waiting periods again. This means that if and when you do restart cover, you waiting periods of up to a year can apply for certain conditions to be covered, or up to five years in the case of a pre-existing condition. A Lifetime Community Rating loading may be applied to your premium if you are age 35 or older.

The HIA recommended that any consumers considering this option should contact their insurer directly to confirm the cancellation fees that will apply but a spokesperson added that they expect to see flexibility from insurers for individuals and families under financial pressure.

“Each insurer has also committed to introducing specific customer supports for those who are facing financial difficulties as a direct result of Covid-19,” a spokesperson said. 

Insurers have said they will deal with these cases fairly, flexibly and on a case by case basis.

When it comes to healthcare, be you a public or private patient, the most important message to remember is that hospitals are still open and treating patients with a range of conditions.

Concern has been expressed by GPs in recent weeks that they weren’t seeing patients presenting in their usual numbers with symptoms of issues like cancer, heart disease or stroke.

Their fear is that patients are avoiding medical care, even if they have symptoms, because of a fear of contracting Covid-19 or belief that other medical care is not available. This is not the case, acute care is available for patients who need it.

At the weekend, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said more non-Covid-19 health services are set to resume in hospitals, with cancer treatment a priority as well as cardiovascular surgery and other treatments.

If you need medical treatment, contact your GP or health insurance provider, don’t suffer at home.

If there are any consumer issues that you’d like Gráinne to address or if you have problems that Gráinne could help with, she can be contacted at

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