When the medical insurance relief capping was announced in the Budget by Michael Noonan, he claimed only the 'gold plated' plans would be affected. But far from the posh patients selecting their lunch from a trimmed down menu in the comfort of the Blackrock clinic, the new measure will actually apply to 90pc of all policies, according to Dermot Goode of HealthInsuranceSavings.ie who says insurers are "astonished" at the move.
An average plan for one person costs about €1,000 a year after the tax relief at 20pc – currently available on the entire premium. Without the tax relief this would be €1,250, but now relief will only be on the first €1,000, resulting in a new net premium of €1,050 – an increase of €50. Add in other adults and children on the policy, and the 5,000 or so people ditching their health insurance on a monthly basis is surely set to increase.
For the higher-level plans favoured by the elderly, fearful of expensive joint replacements and onerous excesses, the premium jumps from €2,771 to €3,263.75; that's 18pc or €492.75.
Premiums will have increased 156pc since 2009 with this Budget and insurance companies, factoring in a further 3pc to 6pc in January just for medical inflation, will be now be redoing the sums on account of new bed charges announced. Here's why:
Tom needs his tonsils out and goes to hospital as a private patient. Currently, if there's no private bed available, he will be put in a public ward and his insurer charged €75 a night for it.
The hospital will do everything they can to find a private bed for Tom as they earn a much higher €950 a night for it instead.
From January, that changes. Tom's public bed will be charged at private rates, providing no incentive for the hospital to move him unless he kicks up a fuss about his accommodation. The public hospital collects the extra money anyway. The insurance company will hike up all premiums to account for the new charge as every public bed potentially becomes a private one.
As it is, many insurers have already dropped a raft of public hospitals from their coverage altogether and a curious position arises should that continue, resulting in a massive shortfall in public hospital funding – surely contrary to what Health Minister James Reilly or the HSE want. He claims he's "not worried" about this happening.
But we should be.