Too early to quantify Covid impact on health insurance, says industry body, but fears remain

Too early to quantify Covid impact on health insurance, says industry body, but fears remain
Health Insurance Ireland has voiced come concerns about what could happen in the Irish market in future.

It is too early to quantify the impact that Covid-19 has had on the Irish private health insurance market, as the economic shock of the crisis may see the mass cancellation of policies, the industry’s regulatory body has said.

Health Insurance Ireland meanwhile said that across 2019 the industry grew to a mild extent, with 46% of the Irish population having some form of health insurance cover at year’s end.

In launching its annual report for last year, the body said that its marketplace had grown by 2.5% to 2.27m people, with premium income also up slightly to €2.72bn, an increase of 1.4% year-on-year.

Despite the report covering the full year for 2019, the coronavirus, perhaps unsurprisingly, is to the fore in its text, with chairperson of the HIA, Sheelagh Malin, describing the future of the industry as being “uncertain”.

Ms Malin said in her introductory notes that the principles of Sláintecare - the plan to reform the health industry by reducing it to a single tier - have cross-party approval, and thus “private health insurance may ultimately fulfil a different role with different regulatory supports within that model”.

“The combination of the health shock and economic shock as a result of Covid-19 could potentially result in people cancelling their health insurance for a variety of reasons in the short to medium term,” HIA chief executive, Don Gallagher, said.

A significant increase in cancellations among younger cohorts could “potentially impact the sustainability and stability of a community-rated health insurance market”, Mr Gallagher said, in reference to Ireland’s system of lifetime community-ratings.

That approach, designed to lower exorbitant premium costs for older people with additional health issues, sees a levelling off of premium costs for people dependent on the year with which they first got cover. It also equates to penalties for people who have not acquired insurance before the age of 35.

“The Authority’s primary objective is to ensure access to private health insurance for all consumers regardless of age, gender or health status,” Mr Gallagher said, adding that the HIA has established an internal committee to “consider the impacts that the Covid-19 pandemic may have on the health insurance market and the Risk Equalisation Fund”, the latter being the scheme, administered by the HIA, which supports the community rating scheme by lowering premiums costs for those aged over 60.

The report said that the two main reasons cited by the public for having private health insurance are the cost of medical treatment, and “the perceived standard of, and lack of access to, public services”.

The HIA said it has made a submission to the Oireachtas special committee on Covid-19 highlighting its concerns over the “potential for a near collapse in the health insurance system”.

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