Health insurance premiums really can be slashed

Gráinne McGuinness has advice on value for health insurance policies.

AS A RULE of thumb for health insurance, if you’ve been on the same plan for two years or more, or all the family are on the same plan, you’re probably not getting the best deal.” That is the opinion of Dermot Goode, health insurance expert and director of www.totalhealthcover.ie.

Health insurance is an area that confuses a lot of people, and with over 400 plans available in the Irish market, it is easy to see why people are baffled. There are so many variables within each plan it can be hard to make comparisons, and that plays a big part in putting people off switching plans. But Goode believes people should treat health cover as they would car or home insurance and shop around every year or two to check that they are still getting the best deal.

Totalhealthcover.ie and www.hia.ie, the Health Insurance Authority website, both have comparison tools to allow consumers weigh up different plans. Goode also suggests letting the providers do the hard work. Ring up before you renew and ask what is the nearest plan they have to your own with equivalent price and benefits. When they suggest a plan ask what exactly are you losing and gaining by switching to it. Don’t let the provider push you off the phone and try to refer you to brochures or their website; keep asking questions. All calls are recorded and they are obliged to offer you all plans available.

Goode says people stay with insurers because they believe they will have to serve out waiting periods again. But this is not the case, your new insurer must give you full credit for time served under your previous policy. Similarly it is not true that you can’t move if you have a pre-existing medical condition; insurers are obliged to accept you as a customer.

Individuals

looking for health insurance will find plans available from €394 but Goode believes that for a decent level of cover you can expect to spend around €800. It’s a lot of money, but if you need a stay in a public hospital you will be charged €75 per night for the first ten nights, so one unexpected event could set you back €750. And with the Lifetime Community Rating, anyone over the age of 34 who takes out health insurance for the first time will be penalised (two per cent per year over 34 so a 44-year-old will face a 20% loading) it makes sense to get your health cover sorted before then.

Health Insurers offer significant discounts to adults under 26, with special rates for those aged 18-20 and 21-25. Whether you are getting your own health insurance for the first time, or are a parent who prefers to keep young adult children covered in the family policy, make sure you look for these discounted rates.

To keep premium costs down Goode recommends opting for a semi-private room rather than private. That decision alone will save you in the region of €500 and there is no way to guarantee a private room anyway, you are at the mercy of bed management in the hospital. He also suggests accepting some level of excess on the policy. An excess is the first part of any insurance claim that you have to pay yourself so it means there is some cost to you when you claim but it will make a big difference to your premium.

“The good news is there is phenomenal value for families at the moment,” says Goode. “The problem is people aren’t aware of the deals available.”

All insurers have special deals to tempt families. VHI currently have cover for children reduced by 50%, while Glohealth offer free cover for children under three. On Laya’s Essential Connect Health plans parents will only have to pay for the first child, any other children are covered for free. Aviva have discounted their Be Fit 2.1 and Health Plan 16.1 corporate plans for children under 18.

But Goode says families can take further steps to get better value.

“The key to getting the best deal for your family is splitting the cover,” he explains.

This involved only insuring each member of the family for the cover they need. Everyone will have different requirements, so get the best cover for each family member and combine them in one policy. Like waiving waiting times, it is something the health providers will not point out to you, but they will do it if you ask.

When it comes to the over 60s, the tendency to stick to the same insurer is even more pronounced, and comes at a serious cost. This demographic generally spend more on health cover and so are missing out on bigger savings by shopping around.

Some Rolls Royce policies will run into thousands, but Goode believes you can get a good level of cover for around the €1,100-1,200 mark. A good tip for people is to look at corporate plans. Ignore the name, individuals are free to access these policies, and they tend to offer excellent coverage for the price.

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 makingcents@examiner.ie


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