Another hike in health insurance premiums

Irish Life Health is planning its second increase this year...

Irish Life Health is set to raise its prices by an average of 3.2% from next month, with some plans shooting up by double that amount.

The insurer, which entered the market last August following Irish Life's acquisitions of Aviva Health and GloHealth, already put its prices up in January.

The fresh hikes will affect the majority of its plans from June 12th.

Totalhealthcover.ie's Dermot Goode told the Irish Independent that a family of two adults and two children could be hit with increases of between €100 and €250.

The fact that some discounted child cover offers are also coming to an end next month could also mean increases on those plans of between 3% and 6%.

Managing director Jim Dowdall blamed the hikes on public hospitals imposing charges on insurers, whether or not the insured patient is given private facilities or a choice of consultant.

He said that the change in public bed legislation was costing the industry €200 million annually.

Irish Life Health's upcoming move means it will be joining Laya Healthcare and VHI in having increased its premiums twice within a short period of time.

VHI confirmed increased the premiums on its health insurance plans by an average 2% at the start of May.

The bump costs a family of two adults and two children roughly an extra €85 per year on the One Plan Family, with the costs of the Start Plan, One Plan Starter and One Plan 250 also rising.

In February, Laya announced an overall hike of 5.9% on its policies.

Dermot Goode said at the time that people are failing to negotiate and shop around when it comes to health insurance:

"They're afraid to change their cover, they're worried about losing benefits. Particularly they're worried about changing employees' benefits.

"They also don't understand exactly how the legislation protects them. And a lot of people just leave it too late, they just forget about it, and what we find is that their cover is being automatically renewed.

"People who are on plans for three, four years or more, in some cases they are paying 100% more – double – the cost they could actually be paying."

Goode joined Newstalk Drive earlier this month to offer his advice on securing the best plan for you.

The insurance expert believes we have a problem with the number of entry-level plans being purchased.

"An awful lot of people have cover that really is not any good," he said. "They've taken on huge excess, they've taken on co-payments. They've basically reduced the cover down to try and keep some level of insurance in place - but the cover now compared to four or five years ago, there's no comparison.

"Unfortunately – and I have to say this to people to manage expectations – people will say to me 'I have health insurance, I pay €500 a year'.

"I'm sorry, that's not health insurance. It's an entry-level plan that really will get you very, very little if you need treatment in a hurry.

"The other thing's that's pushing up rates as well as is this practice in public hospitals of charging people with health insurance a rate [that's] 10 times the rate they should be charged, simply because they have health insurance."

He suggested that if he was to sign a form to be treated as a private patient, he could end up receiving the same treatment as a public patient in the same room – but the insurance company will be charged almost €900 per night.

Goode added:

"What I would say to every consumer, when that form is put in front of them, you do not have to sign it. You should politely say 'do you have a private room?' I would advise everyone make sure you're in the private room first [before signing the form]."

"I fully appreciate people joining the entry level plans if it's just to get on the ladder to beat the loadings. The problem is we have people joining those plans who now think they have fantastic health insurance.

So how much should you pay?

"If you want reasonable cover, you need to pay €900 per adult," Dermot argued. "If you want really good cover, you need to spend €1,200 per adult – €100 per month. Some people might say that's crazy money – and it is for lots of people. But bear in mind if you go public, you'll be charged €80 per night, up to 10 nights in any one year."

Goode continued:

"[That price plan] cover you for most public hospitals - in some cases every public hospital - and they'll cover you for most private hospitals up to a semi-private room. A semi-private room could cost you €500 to €1000 per night.

"There's loads of other things. There's maternity cover, psychiatric, convalesence and so forth."

He also advised people to not automatically renew, as switching companies could make savings for families of between €1,200 to €2,850:

"It's worth maybe engaging somebody to do it for you, or it's worth simply phoning up your insurance company and asking the right questions."

He recommended that people visit the Health Insurance Authority's website for more information and comparisons.