Money Express: Don’t miss the savings deadline for health cover

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The steady increase in health insurance premiums has caused more than 60,000 people to drop their insurance in the past year, many of them younger members who are so important to the sustainability of the ‘community rated’ system by which everyone can purchase any health plan here, regardless of their age.

The steady increase in health insurance premiums has caused more than 60,000 people to drop their insurance in the past year, many of them younger members who are so important to the sustainability of the ‘community rated’ system by which everyone can purchase any health plan here, regardless of their age.

Money Express with Jill Kerby sponsored by Laya Healthcare

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The latest price hike round involves VHI increasing their rates by up to 8.5% on certain plans on March 1; Laya increasing some of their plans by up to 16.4% from April 1; Aviva increasing most of their plans by up to 6.4% from March 31 and GloHealth, the newest player, increasing their plans by up to 9.6% by from March 31. All four providers have already increased their premiums from 3%-12% between last October and this past January.

Dermot Goode of www.healthinsurancesavings.ie is adamant that anyone who has not reviewed their health plan in the last three years is paying “shockingly high” premiums in 2013, having been hit by one increase after another that may have raised their bill by as much as 135%, yet their provider probably has brought out equivalent, cheaper plans during that period.

Cheaper equivalent or near equivalent plans are still available, says Goode, but you need to know which ones are which (not easy with over 250 different plans between the four insurers) and ideally, the names of the corporate plans, which are often discounted to individual ones, but not advertised for individual users.

The insurers now all operate annual contracts that lock in the member for 12 months, but in the case of Laya and Aviva, says Goode, this lock-in “only came into effect from June 2012.” Customers who are due to renew in April and May, “may be able to do a ‘stop and start’ on your cover to avoid the next price increase for a further 12 months, i.e. stop your current policy now and set up a new policy on the same plan on the current rates.

“ You have 14 days after your renewal date to cancel or amend your cover. After this, you could find yourself locked into an expensive annual contract and you could face financial penalties if you subsequently try and cancel the policy. Therefore, it’s critical that you act on the renewal notice once it lands as complacency could cost you dearly”.

Comparing the price of two, popular plans offered by each company with two similar plans with the same provider, Goode has shown that the savings between 35%-46% can be achieved.

For example, a family of four – two parents, two children – who switch from their existing Laya Essential Plus (No Excess) plan to Laya’s Healthwise Plus No Excess plan will save a total of €1,947.32 or 46%. (You have until April 1 to switch.)

A family with Aviva’s Level 2 Hospital plan will save €1,286.60 or 38% by switching to Aviva’s Family Value plan. (You have until May 1 to take up this offer.)

Meanwhile, Goode says that GloHealth’s equivalent best value plan, Better Plan, which was only launched last July, costs, in total, €2,200 and also represents very good value for a family of four. (VHI comparisons are not included here because the renewal switching deadline was last Saturday, March 9.)

Healthinsurancesavings.ie offer similar same-company comparisons for single people and older people, the latter, surveys show, are far less likely to cancel their plans than younger people. Older people also tend to buy more expensive policies, with greater coverage for outpatient and hospital treatment and better accommodation options.

While savings like the above are very significant, other cost cutting solutions www.healthinsurancesavings.ie suggest include, especially for families with very young children, switching providers.

Special child discounts that were all the rage last year with VHI, Laya and Aviva are now gone, says Goode, and only newcomer, GloHealth still allows all children under three to go free. All parents should be reminded, that you are not obliged to keep your children on the same plan as the parents’ and that lower cost/accommodation plans are suitable in most cases because adult-style private or semi-private accommodation is not usually available in the children’s hospitals.

Meanwhile, Goode warns all members that from this month, the €65 increase in the risk equalization levy (to €350 per adult) and the extra €25 for a child (to €120) will not apply if your plan qualifies as a ‘non-advanced’ or low cost entry level plan with little access to private hospital treatment. Unfortunately, this means that providers must eliminate benefits like MRI scans and other out-patient treatments in private hospitals from these plans.

“People with entry level plans will really have to decide whether it’s worth moving to a new ‘advanced’ plan, however basic that may still be the same price as their old one, but with the extra levy, or stay with their existing entry-level one and lose access to tests or treatments at a private hospital.” jill@jillkerby.ie