THE nice lady from Laya Healthcare wanted to check if the bill submitted by Temple Street Children's Hospital was correct.
It was a wallet-busting €7,787 for a week's treatment in the hospital -- enough to make you wonder if private health insurance is not just one big scam. The insurer was willing to pay it as long as it could be sure the treatments and accommodation claimed for were delivered.
My nine-year-old spent a week in May in the Dublin hospital with a mystery virus that floored her. Normally the liveliest of children, she was rendered immobile by the illness. The medical staff were thorough, courteous and reassuring in trying to find out what the ailment was, but they never got to the bottom of it and eventually it went away.
The size of the bill was a shock. Most of it is to pay for the accommodation, yet my daughter was in five different beds in five different wards during her short stay. The hospital is billing on the basis that my little one was in a bed "designated" as a private one for those with insurance.
Mostly she was in multi-occupancy rooms. If these were private beds, then it was hard to tell what a public one looks like.
Temple Street charged our insurer €7,056 for the accommodation alone. The rest was to cover scans and blood tests. The big benefit with insurance is that you get to see a consultant quickly. That is why two million people have retained cover, despite the battering household budgets have taken. But we were not billed for the consultant's services.
The bed designation element of the insurance is a con job. This is especially the case for a child, as we don't have a private hospital for kids. And the great bed-charging trick is to get worse as Health Minister James Reilly is set to impose new bed charges of €130m on insurers from next month.
You might argue that the insurer will pay, just as it paid the Temple Street bill for my daughter, but the costs are passed on. Health insurance has doubled in price since 2007. Many people have ditched it, but there is still huge loyalty to the product.
Having a little less than half the population paying for private cover is a massive release valve for the under-pressure public system.
However, increasingly it is becoming just another massive subsidy to an already financially out-of-control public system.