Consumer advice with Gráinne McGuinness
With energy costs and other household bills going up in recent weeks, one bright spot for beleaguered households has been in the area of private health insurance.
After years of rising premiums, all the main players have recently announced price cuts or additional benefits for their customers.
Despite regular advice to shop around, many of us still stay with the same provider and on the same plan for years on end.
But given the nature of many of the price cuts, with premiums being reduced on specific plans rather than across the board, it makes even more sense to take a good look at what is on offer before your next renewal date.
VHI got the ball rolling at the start of October when they announced changes to the adult rate in respect of 26 of their 78 plans.
Irish Life soon followed, saying they would reduce adult prices on their Health Plan 16.1, Be Fit 2, Be Fit 2.1, and Best Plan Smart Cash ILH.
Last week, Laya Healthcare joined in, announcing it is decreasing the price of eight schemes on the net adult premium from December 1.
As health insurance expert Dermot Goode pointed out when VHI announced their reductions, the amounts involved are not huge.
Some of the discounts are in the region of €30 per adult, while the average change from Laya Healthcare varies from plan to plan but decreased by an average of 6.1%.
More importantly, each provider has selected certain plans for price cuts, with others remaining unchanged.
The rule of thumb, Mr Goode suggests, is that if you have been on the same plan for more than two years you could be getting better value elsewhere.
If you are currently on a plan that has not been included in the price cuts this is even more likely to be true.
Like it or not, failing to shop around before committing to another year’s premium makes absolutely no sense.
Switching health insurers can seem even more daunting than other financial products because of the sheer volume of options on offer.
There are a couple of ways to make the search easier.
One is to use the comparison tool at hia.ie, the website of the Health Insurance Authority.
You can use this to compare your current plan to what is on offer elsewhere.
Once you enter your provider and specific plan, you will be shown other plans at your current level of hospital cover.
You can broaden out to compare with higher or lower levels or use the search tool for a more general look at plans.
It allows you to refine your search based on variables including type of room cover, level of excess and any restricted procedures.
The other option, one Mr Goode also recommends, is to let the insurers do the work for you.
When you call the providers, they will generally point you to their website for information on their plans.
But you can ask for the information to be given over the phone, and if you ask specific question, they will do a lot of the search work for you.
Tell them the plan you are currently on, and ask them what they can offer you with similar benefits.
Then, when they make recommendations, ask them to specifically tell you any differences between their suggestions and your current plan.
One noticeable aspect of the recent announcements from the health providers is that they are all keen to emphasise the additional benefits they provide.
It is understandable that customers focus on price when comparing different plans but is also worth bearing mind how useful the additional extra will be to you and your family.
Depending on your stage of life, enhanced maternity benefits or cardiac screening could be useful.
For families whose children are over six, and thus not currently eligible for GP care, it is worth looking at access to a nurse or GP on call.
Other benefits not being offered by some providers include STI screening, claims for gym membership and/or fitness wearables and smart prescription services.
Depending on lifestyle, those extras could substantially reduce the net cost of your cover.
Broadband and entertainment packages are on the rise, just as we enter the time of year when people spend more time hibernating. It makes sense to switch now to avail of special offers in the next few months so Eir has launched offers to draw in consumers.
Its three Christmas bundles come with the added incentive of a free tablet or €50 cashback. The cashback is offered with its broadband and landline bundle. This will cost €35 for the first six months, rising to €40 for the remainder of the 12-month contract.
Its broadband, landline and mobile bundle also costs €35 for the first six months and comes with a free 10.1” Eir tablet. The package includes a free smartphone. The price rises to €40 per month after six months and then €96 per month for the remainder of the two-year contract .
You get the same tablet as a gift when you sign up for the broadband, landline and TV package, which costs €45 at the start, rising to €91 and which has 54 channels.
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