Three steps to slash family health costs
With insurance premiums on the rise again, Charlie Weston finds out how families can get the best deal
YET again the cost of private health insurance is on the rise. Vhi Healthcare is increasing its rates by up to 6pc from May 1, and GloHealth has announced a price increase on a range of plans by up to 8pc from the same date.
Aviva has already increased its rates from January and Laya's last price increase was introduced in March.
Consumers should brace themselves for bi-annual price increases going forward of anything up to 5pc each time, according to health insurance broker Dermot Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie.
The good news is that there is still tremendous value in the market buried among the 420 or so plans, he said.
Below is a guide to some simple tactics to help you find the best value option for you or your family that will still give you excellent overall cover but at the best price possible.
Step 1 : split your cover
Too many families believe they must have all insured persons on the same plan.
While this is easier to arrange, and therefore more convenient for the insurer, it more than likely means you are overpaying, Mr Goode maintains.
"Every person has different healthcare needs.
"One adult may prefer a private room, the other may just need public hospital cover, the children might be well covered on a hospital-only plan, but maybe one child might need day-to-day cover - refunds on routine out-patient expenses," he said.
He said that the best plan is to consider each person's requirements individually and select the plan that best matches these.
Mr Goode said that with most insurers you can have everyone on the one policy but all on different plans as the example below shows for a typical family.
This 'Splitting Cover' table (top right) illustrates the potential savings by splitting the adult and child cover and putting the child dependents on a lower level of public/private hospital cover.
It also shows the special deals that are now available for children under 18.
Step 2: take on an excess
This is one of the best tactics open to all consumers to slash your costs, according to Mr Goode.
A major fear that consumers have is that the excess is per night, which is not the case.
On most plans, the excess is per admission or per claim (including day-case claims) and it only applies to private hospitals.
When taking on an excess, you must consider the worst case scenario, i.e. if I need to be admitted multiple times during the year, could I afford to pay an excess of anything from €50 to €150 per admission each time, Mr Goode says.
If you are attending a public hospital in a private capacity, no excess applies.
In most cases, the excesses will not be applied at all for cancer-related day-case treatments such as chemotheraphy or radiotherapy.
If one person on the policy is not keen on an excess, consider splitting the cover as mentioned above, and put the other dependents on an excess-based plan.
For employers who fund the cost of healthcare, they must consider this tactic as a means of controlling rising healthcare costs.
The table 'Take on an Excess' (middle right) illustrates the typical savings for an individual adult by taking on a small excess.
Step 3: Check out corporate plans
Too many consumers still believe that corporate plans are for employers or company group schemes only, Mr Goode said. While this is the intended market, the health insurance legislation ensures that every plan on the market is available to all consumers irrespective of age, occupation, or medical history etc, he said.
Corporate plans typically cover all public and private hospitals which means you have excellent cover for private facilities such as the Bon Secours Hospital group countrywide, the Hermitage Clinic and the Beacon Hospital and many others, Mr Goode said. Excesses apply in private hospitals (per admission) and on many plans, there are co-payments for certain orthopaedic procedures (excluding Laya), so these plans may not suit everyone.
They normally include excellent day-to-day cover, which means you receive guaranteed refunds on most out-patient expenses with no excess to pay first, he added.
Aviva and GloHealth allow their members to claim these expenses "as-they-go" using their scan-and-send service, and it won't be too long before the other insurers introduce a similar service, Mr Goode said.
Given the competition for company-paid corporate schemes, these plans tend to be the most competitively priced in the market.
While the pricing for adults is very attractive, they can be expensive for child dependents and families may want to consider splitting the cover and possibly putting the child dependents on lower level plans to manage their costs.
Many consumers believe they're on the right plan simply because they switched to corporate cover a couple of years ago.
"Big mistake. These corporate plans are very dynamic and are re-priced regularly and often replacement plans are introduced within 12 months, sometimes with a different name for another group scheme," Mr Goode said.
To make sure that you're always getting the best deal, you must review your cover annually.
Never renew until you review
Health insurance is a valuable product, but paying higher premiums doesn't always mean you're getting better cover, Dermot Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie warned.
Think of health cover as you would car or home insurance and shop around in advance of your renewal each year for the best value.
Even contacting your insurer and asking them for the "lowest-cost-equivalent plan" to what you have can generate good savings.
If you're still insured on the same plan for two years or more or if you have all the family on the same cover, then you're likely to be overpaying, Mr Goode said. Don't forget the Health Insurance Authority website (hia.ie), which contains full details on every plan and every special offer in the market. If health insurance is not for you right now but you need cover for everyday medical costs or dental cover, check out the DeCare Dental suite of products or the health cash plans from HSF Health Plan. If you're confused or concerned over a possible reduction in your cover, get good independent advice and let your broker do the work.
Remember the legislation protects you when switching in that you must get full credit for any time insured with another insurer(s). Therefore, if you have already served your waiting periods, they do not have to be reserved. In conclusion, never renew until you review.