Making cents: Weighing up the expense of health insurance

Gráinne McGuinness has the latest advice for consumers nationwide. This week she’s tackling health insurance and how you can get the best for you and your family’s buck.

Hi Grainne,

My wife and I got married in December and are saving for a deposit. After watching the documentary about waiting lists last week, my wife wants us to get health insurance. Neither of us have it at the moment.

I feel it’s too expensive and we would be better off saving the money. We are both in our early 30s. Do you think it’s a good idea to get it and if so, what type would suit? We had a look at policies online but there were so many different types we didn’t know where to start.

J Fahy

Thurles

Only you can decide if health insurance makes sense for you. It is a large expense to add to the household budget but there are strong reasons for having it. According to the Health Insurance Authority (HIA) 2015 annual report, more than 2m Irish people have private health cover.

As with all types of insurance, you have to weigh the cost of the cover against the potential cost if one or both of you were to require care. The public health care system is available to both of you and should something catastrophic happen, a heart attack or cancer, you will be cared for.

But if you need a stay in a public hospital, you will be charged €75 per night for the first 10 nights, so one unexpected illness alone could cost you €750.

Where the public system particularly falls down is for less urgent issues. As the RTÉ documentary showed, people can be spend years waiting for treatment, with an enormous impact on quality of life.

Your age should also be a factor in your decision. In 2015, Ireland introduced the Lifetime Community Rating (LCR) to encourage people to take out health insurance.

Anyone who waits until they are 35 or older to take out cover will have a loading added to the cost, an additional 2% for every year after 35. So if you are approaching that deadline, you need to balance saving money now against the extra cost in the future. If you feel you are likely to want cover at some stage, you might want to consider getting a basic package now.

There is no question that the sheer number of plans available is off putting for new customers. The HIA have a useful search tool on their website, www.hia.ie.

When searching, try and decide a couple of key points for your needs and search with those in mind. What is your budget?

You can get very basic plans from €454 per person but health insurance expert Dermot Goode believes the actual cover you get for that money is limited. If that is all you can manage, it will get you started and ensure you don’t get hit with LCR penalties later, but if you can afford to, Mr Goode suggests spending more.

The next question is the level of cover and excess. You can pay a premium to be covered in a private room but there is no guarantee one will be available if you fall ill, so choosing ‘semi private room in a private hospital’ will reduce your costs.

From there, you can refine your search on the website by putting in the maximum you can afford to pay and also stating what excess you will pay. Excess means you pay an initial amount at the start of a claim before your insurance covers the rest. Choosing a slightly higher excess is a good way to keep your premiums down.

One other thing to bear in mind if you do decide to get cover is not to treat your choice of plan as a permanent decision. Providers rely on consumer apathy to keep them and will gradually increase the costs. The cover you are on should ideally be reviewed every year on renewal or at least every second year.

If you spend several years on the same plan, you can almost guarantee you are paying over the odds and would benefit from shopping around. Plus, when circumstances change, such as starting a family, you should reassess your cover for the new situation

Deal of the week

It is wonderful to welcome in the brighter evenings as February draws to a close. However, an unfortunate consequence is the attention drawn to dust and grime built up over the winter.

Luckily, Lidl is on hand to kit us out for the spring clean with Thursday’s special offer range. The Vileda Electric Sweeper, on sale for €29.99, can be used on all floor types and promises easy cleaning thanks to a flexible jointed handle. It comes with a rechargeable battery and will run for 45 minutes on a full charge.

Elsewhere, a small stepladder is on sale for €16.99, just the thing to help clear away cobwebs. The range also includes an array of storage options to help sort out clutter, from collapsible crates and boxes to hanging organisers and garment bags, priced from €3.99.

If your garden needs TLC, the company has durable ash garden tools for €14.99. It also has varnish, outdoor paint, and a flowerpots and stands.

  • All on sale on February 23.
  • 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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