76,000 people quit private health cover

More than 76,000 people have quit their private health insurance in the past year, with record numbers getting medical cards.

However, a leading patients’ advocate has warned that the mass exodus from the private health sector and the bill for the 1.8m medical card holders will have to picked up by the taxpayer.

“Here we have people falling out of private health insurance and the public system has the highest ever medical cards issued in the history of the State,” said Stephen McMahon, chairman of the Irish Patients’ Association.

“That is going to continue growing. The only way people are going to be covered is that it falls on the rest of society to pick up the tab through taxation and other things.”

Responding to a parliamentary question from his Fine Gael party colleague Jim Daly, Health Minister James Reilly confirmed 76,000 people quit their health insurance cover in the 12 months to the end of Mar 2012.

Mr Reilly said there were still 2.139m, or 46.6% of the population, covered by private health insurance.

However, he said he was concerned plans were becoming harder to afford, particularly for older people, as providers increasingly tailored plans toward younger, healthier customers who were less likely to make a claim.

“There can be little doubt that price increases will make it more difficult for persons who hold private health insurance to renew their policies,” he said.

Figures compiled by the patients’ association show between Jan 2010 and Mar 2012 the number of medical cards increased by 280,214 (+19.0%) and doctor-only visiting cards by 28,214 (28.6%). That means there are now 1.76m people with medical cards and 126,860 people with doctor-only visiting cards.

The IPA said the number of medical cards issued at the end of Mar 2012 stood at the highest level in its 40 years of operation.

With regard to the rapidly declining numbers with private health insurance, Mr McMahon said IPA had been concerned for several years about the effects of that decline for two reasons.

“Firstly for themselves, they are falling back on an extremely overstretched public healthcare system.

“Secondly as people fall out of the health insurance market, the cost of that has to be picked up by the remaining members. In the case of the VHI they are spending a €1.2bn to €1.3bn a year pay-out to the hospital system. That means that because the payout is relatively the same there are far fewer members to cover that cost so, if 76,000 people have left, that could be €76m lost to the insurance market at €1,000 per head,” said Mr McMahon “Where once upon a time private health insurance was as protected in a family as paying your mortgage, it is now seen as a commodity and is let go because of the demands of the family for other areas of their households budgets.”


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