The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the private health insurance market in Ireland remains undetermined according to the Health Insurance Authority (HIA) with the consumer outlook in the market described as "uncertain".
The consumer information body warned of the potential for future policy cancellations by customers at younger ages.
This follows previous warnings by the industry observer Total HealthCover.ie about the potential for premium increases as a result.
Speaking about the impact of Covid-19 on the private health insurance market, Don Gallagher, HIA CEO, said: “As yet, we are uncertain of the impact Covid-19 may have on the market.
"The combination of the health shock and economic shock as a result of Covid-19 could potentially result in people cancelling their health insurance for a variety of reasons in the short to medium term.
"A significant increase in cancellations at younger ages could potentially impact the sustainability and stability of a community-rated health insurance market."
Mr Gallagher also said the HIA had established a group to further assess the impacts of the coronavirus on the insurance market as well as the Risk Equalisation Fund.
Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19 the HIA report showed steady growth in the private health insurance market for 2019 with 46% of the population having some form of health insurance cover.
The market increased by 2.5% to 2.27m and premium income increased in 2019 by 1.4% compared to 2018.
Steady economic growth in Ireland was linked to market stability and expansion for private health insurance with more people insured year on year since 2014.
Mr Gallagher said that growing demand for private health was met with relatively high satisfaction from consumers but that consumer information remained an issue.
According to the HIA, the private health insurance market in Ireland has over 300 health insurance products available resulting in some complexity for the consumer.
Mr Gallagher said: “The Health Insurance market remained relatively stable over the course of 2019.
"46% of the population have some form of health insurance cover, making it the largest non-life insurance market in Ireland. Numbers insured in December 2019 were 2.5% higher than 12 months previously, with demand rising against the backdrop of a growing economy.
"According to a survey we commissioned in October 2019, satisfaction with health insurance companies remains relatively high.
"However, with over 300 health insurance products being marketed at the end of 2019, the complexity for consumers remains high.”
Market share in Ireland remained unchanged with the three main health insurers, Vhi, Laya, Irish Life Health retaining 50%, 26% and 20% respectively at the end of 2019.
Key findings from the 2019 HIA Annual Report on the Private Health Insurance Market show:
- Premiums per person fell by an average of 0.8% in both 2019 and 2018
- The average amount paid for a health insurance premium for in-patient cover in 2019 was €1,200, compared to €1,210 in 2018
- Market share did not change in 2019 with Vhi Healthcare’s market share at 50%, Laya Healthcare at 26% market share and Irish Life Health at 20% at end of December 2019
- Total claims paid by the three main health insurers (Vhi, Laya, Irish Life Health) were €2.24bn in 2019, Of that amount, approximately 11% was for outpatient claims (including outpatient consultant fees), 19% for consultants in-hospital treatment (including daycase and side-room procedures), 49% for private hospitals and 21% for public hospitals
- The HIA received 2,790 queries in 2019. The website received almost 450,000 visits in 2019 with many people visiting to use the plan comparison facility