EVERY day I speak with people concerned about the cost of their private health insurance. They ask for my advice and quite simply I urge them, where possible, to hold on to their cover – but to know exactly what they are paying for.
It's nigh on impossible for consumers to be able to navigate their way around the myriad terms and conditions accompanying health insurance policies – nor should they be expected to do so. There are several myths about health insurance and it is important to dispel these myths to give a clearer picture of this complex but necessary product.
Firstly, going public does not mean going for free. Unless you have a medical card, there's a €75 charge per night for up to 10 nights in any one year, bringing the maximum annual charge to €750. This applies to both adults and children.
Another mistake is thinking that on all policies, maternity cover provides full cover. In fact, while a certain amount of maternity benefit must be included in all policies, most plans will cover three days in a public hospital and pay about €880 towards the consultant's fees. But if you have your baby privately, the consultant's fee can vary from between €2,500 and €4,500. Therefore, expect shortfalls. In addition, you must be insured for a year before maternity benefits kick in.
And one of the biggest – and most costly – mistakes is the thinking that families cannot avail of corporate plans. They can. Anyone can join any plan that is launched to the market regardless of the plan name or who it is targeted at.
The recent reduction in tax relief and the expected price hikes from insurers over the next few months has increased the challenge of holding on to private health insurance. Families are facing difficult questions – do they cancel their private health insurance and rely on the existing public system? Do they reduce their cover for the entire family on the basis that some cover is better than none? Do they take some people in the family off the policy – and keep those members who are more likely to fall ill on it? Here are seven ways that you can try and reduce the cost of health insurance without going down any of these routes.
* If you're on the same plan for more than three years, review your cover. Chances are you've been hit with price hikes. Over the past four years, the price of some plans has increased by up to 150 per cent. However, in many cases, the insurers will have launched lower-cost equivalents – but under a different product name.
* Shop around. You can do this yourself, through the Health Insurance Authority website (www.hia.ie), or through a broker.
* Go the dual insurer route, where you split your family's cover across two insurers to avail of special offers.
* If one or more of your children are in college, make sure you're getting a student rate. Student rates don't apply automatically – they must be requested from your insurer.
* If your plan includes cover for accommodation in a private room, it will be more expensive than one which doesn't. Don't be covered for a private room unless this is critical for you.
* It always worth looking at corporate plans as these tend to be priced very competitively – but they don't suit everyone.
* Find out exactly how much you're paying for day-to-day cover, and ask if you really need it. You might be paying more for day-to-day benefit than you're claiming in refunds.
Dermot Goode is a health cover expert at www.health-insurancesavings.ie