Insurers to pile pain on private patients

Thousands of private health insurance holders are set to suffer a second double-digit price hike this year — marking the start of a threatened 40% new cost surge across the sector.

In yet more bad news for cash-strapped patients, Laya Healthcare — formerly Quinn — will push up premiums by 6%-16.5% from Apr 1, following a separate 3%-14% Jan 1 price hike.

The highly controversial move, which will cost customers €200 more a year, is the third year running Laya has imposed a double increase on customers.

Critics claim the hike takes advantage of patients trying to ensure the best care possible.

After a 19% rise in Jan 2010, Ireland’s second- largest health insurer hit customers with a double hike in Jan and Apr 2011 (13% and 8%) and again in Jan and Mar 2012 (7%-25% and 6%).

The latest rise came 24 hours after all four health insurers warned further rises of 20%-40% are on the cards.

In a lengthy Oireachtas health committee meeting on Thursday, senior management from VHI, Laya Healthcare, Glo Health, and Aviva Health threatened the massive increase. They said they were being forced to consider the moves because of Health Minister James Reilly’s reform plans, which are attempting to make the insurance market fairer for the elderly and fairer on the public health service.

In particular, Laya managing director Donal Clancy said the planned €65 health insurance levy increase from April and the move to charge private patients more for using public beds would be “the straw that broke the camel’s back” unless new price rises were imposed.

Just a day later, the proposal has been put into practice, with the 10.8% “average” Laya price hike likely to kick off another price surge across a sector already facing a backlash from irate customers.

Laya says the latest rise is “necessary due to a number of cost factors, many of which are driven by current Government policy”.

Among the reasons for the increase are a rise in the health insurance levy from €285-€350 for adults and €95-€120 for children, due to be introduced on Apr 1.

The firm said the change would cost it €60m this year, up €14m on 2012, with increased medical costs for treatments also noted.

Mr Clancy said he was “very conscious of the impact” on customers.

However, the firm refused to reveal how many staff are earning more than €100,000, €200,000, €300,000 and €400,000 a year, or Mr Clancy’s current salary, as this information “is commercially sensitive”.

Consumers’ Association of Ireland chief executive Dermot Jewell said companies “should never be able to agree” on the need for exact increases at almost the same time, and called into question the competition offered by rival insurers.

The Health Insurance Authority told Thursday’s health committee that up to 10,000 people have quit their insurance cover since September, in line with recession-era trends. About 46.3% of people had health insurance in September, down from 52% in 2005.

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