Health insurance company VHI has announced a surplus after tax of €54.3m for last year.

However, the insurer said its private health insurance business was loss making and recorded an underwriting loss of €7.2m for 2012.

The company said this was due to the ageing profile of its customer base and the lack of an effective risk equalisation scheme.

VHI said securing authorisation from the Central Bank was its priority for the year ahead.

VHI has a 56% market share of the health insurance market, but pays about 75% of health insurance claims.

The company said that claims incurred last year amounted to €1.39 billion, an increase of 13%. Earned premiums were €1.43 billion, an increase of almost 9% on 2011 figures.

In the last eight years VHI said it has experienced a 29% reduction in its customers under the age of 60. At the same time its customers aged over 60 have increased by 12%. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of its customers aged over 80 has increased by 33%, while the number over 60 has grown by 15%.

VHI Healthcare's chief executive John O'Dwyer described last year as a '''challenging year'' for the company. ''Our focus on cost containment delivered savings of over 100m in 2012 and our investment performance was strong, marginally improving our financial position,'' he added.

He said that while last year's surplus was very welcome, the company needs to record a surplus of at least 60m each year it is to maintain the correct solvency level required for Central Bank authorisation.

''In terms of achieving authorisation, two key issues currently remain out of our control, the delivery of an effective Risk Equalisation Scheme and a commitment to a capital injection to meet solvency requirements. Both these items are prerequisites for the Central Bank to consider an application for authorisation,'' the CEO stated.

The company said today that its reserves increased to almost €324m in 2012, up nearly €30m on 2011.