Deadline prompts 74,000 to take out health insurance

Around 74,000 people took out health insurance in the weeks before the imposition of new membership rules, it has emerged.

Yesterday, Leo Varadkar, the health minister, confirmed the number of people with private cover increased by 80,000 since the start of the year. However, the bulk of them, about 74,000, acquired health insurance before the introduction on May 1 of Lifetime Community Rating.

Penalties now apply to those over 34 taking out cover for the first time.

In effect, they will have to pay a loaded premium — up to a maximum of 70%, for the rest of their lives.

Mr Varadkar told a meeting of the Oireachtas Health Committee the number of people who hold insurance now stands at 2,105,000. He said a six-year downward trend in health insurance cover had now been reversed and his officials were working on more proposals to improve affordability.

“I believe that health insurance needs to be made more affordable before we consider how it could be made universal,” he said.

Dermot Wells, general manager of the health division of Cornmarket Group Financial Services, cautiously welcomed the minister’s comments, particularly proposals to make health insurance more affordable.

Mr Wells said insurers have either not increased rates this year or applied minimal rate increases and he was sure this was an area that would be under review.

Dermot Goode, a health insurance expert with TotalHealthCover.ie, said insurance companies had experienced a complete reversal of fortunes and it would be very hard for them to justify price increases.

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