Number of people with private health insurance falls to 2006 levels

Another substantial drop in private health insurance numbers is expected by the year end with 75,000 people dropping out of the system, it has emerged.

The private health insurance market peaked with 2.3m customers in 2008, falling to 2.14m at the end of this March, the same as it was in mid-2006.

The Health Insurance Authority (HIA) confirmed yesterday that it warned the health minister last December of a further 75,000 drop in insurance numbers between July 2011 and Dec 2012.

According to a new HIA report, 43% of the adult population hold private health insurance, a three-percentage point drop in two years.

There has been a steady drop in the proportion of the adult holding private health insurance since 2005 when it stood at 52%.

The survey, conducted last November, found that affordability, price rises, employment issues, and the economic environment were all affecting consumer sentiment toward private health insurance.

HIA chief executive Liam Sloyan said there was uncertainty around the projected figure because of the economic situation and insurer behaviour.

He said the survey showed that consumers had become more active in shopping around and there had been a sharp reduction in tolerance for price increases.

Most of the 1,011 people surveyed by Millward Brown Lansdowne for the HIA viewed health insurance as a way of accessing healthcare services quicker and a necessity rather than a luxury.

It is the second most valued employee benefit after a pension and the percentage of people believing that private health insurance is the most valued employment benefit has risen from 18% in 2010 to 29%.

The survey found there was a greater level of switching and an increased readiness of consumers to switch.

However, most have only switched once.

The proportion of consumers who say they will maintain or upgrade their cover in the next 12 months has also increased from 73% to 85% since the 2010 report.

The survey also found that more people were prepared to switch for financial rather than benefit gains.

Nevertheless, people with private health insurance said they would need to save an average of €441 to prompt them to switch.

Mr Sloyan said the HIA could help many people to save significant amounts of money on health insurance.

He pointed out that insurance companies had introduced a range of cheaper plans with reduced benefits. “There are choices out there for consumers and we can help them find them,” he said.

Consumers can contact the HIA by telephoning 1850 929 166 or visit the authority’s website at www.hia.ie


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