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The Afternoon Show
The Afternoon ShowRTÉ One, Weekdays, 4.00pm

Consumer - Health Insurance

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Tina will also be giving us a guide as to the questions you should be asking yourself and the insurance companies when buying a policy and how easily you can switch providers.

Article in The Irish Independent on 18th February 2009
According to The Irish Independent, health insurance premiums are set to rise by 25pc due to the Government's controversial co-location plan to build private hospitals on the grounds of public hospitals.

Given the inglorious state of our public healthcare system, most people, if they can afford it pay for private heath cover. Unfortunately, it seems as though the cost of private health insurance will be rising in the future rather than decreasing, some say by as much as 25%. This is due to the new system of co-location introduced by Minister for Health Mary Harney. It means that private hospitals will be built in the grounds of public hospitals so that private patients will not be taking up bed space in the public hospitals. It will result in private health insurers having to pay the full cost of the bed rather than the subsidised cost they currently pay for a bed in the public system, hence the expected hikes in insurance premiums.

The costs
There are three health insurance providers in the market: Quinn Healthcare; VHI and Hibernian Aviva. All offer a multitude of packages with different prices so you should shop around to compare cover and costs.

Case Study Price Comparison 1 - An individual who is getting health insurance for the first time and has no pre-existing illnesses

Starter packages (individual):
Quinn Essential Starter €28.33 per month
VHI Plan A €47.33 per month
Hibernian Aviva Me Level 1 €39.75 per month

All of these packages cover a semi-private room in a public hospital and no private hospital cover. They also cover emergency healthcare abroad, psychiatric stays and limited maternity benefits.

Case Study Price Comparison 2 - A family unit of 2 adults and 2 children all without pre-existing illnesses

Family packages
Quinn Family Care €1,980 per annum
VHI Family Plan Plus €2,144 per annum
Hibernian Aviva I and We Level 2 €1,948.80 per annum

All of these packages cover a private room in a public hospital and a semi-private room in some private hospitals. They provide higher cover for psychiatric illness, doctor and dentist visits, emergency treatment abroad etc. They also cover doctor's maternity fees up to €859 (Aviva) or €910.21 (Quinn).

Questions to ask yourself, before getting health insurance
. What is best for your circumstances?
. What benefits would be of most value to you at your life stage?
. What kind of hospital accommodation would you prefer?
. Is Maternity benefit a priority?

Questions you should ask the insurance company when finding the right policy for you
. What hospital accommodation is covered?
. Does the policy cover consultant's fees?
. What out patient costs does it cover? I.e. doctor, physiotherapy, dentist.
. What maternity benefit is included? I.e. doctor's fees, hospital stay, home birth, illness of injury during pregnancy.
. What is the excess charged? Can you pay extra to avoid paying an excess charge?
. What is the maximum level of cover in various instances? I.e. number of stays in hospital.

Is it easy to switch?
Yes it is easy to switch. All you have to do is research and choose your new provider, identifying the package that suits you. You can sign up online and then cancel your existing cover. You should take note of the following first though:

. If you are upgrading your cover, a waiting period may apply before any new additional benefits kick in.
. You should not leave a gap in cover of more than 13 weeks. Otherwise, you will be starting off again, and a waiting period will apply.
. The maximum waiting periods are 26 weeks if you are under the age of 55 years, 52 weeks if you are aged 55 and under age 65 and 104 weeks if you are aged 65 or over. However, you will be covered in the event of an accident or injury that occurs while you wait for full cover.
. If you have switched during your waiting period, your new provider must include that time in your new waiting period.
. If you switch health insurers to a policy with a similar level of cover, while being treated for an illness, your cover will not be affected.