FAMILIES could save up to €600 a year as a price war breaks out between health insurers.
The insurers have launched 19 new "corporate" health insurance plans which are available to all customers.
These corporate plans are marketed to companies that pay for the private medical insurance of their staff, but by law they have to be made available to anyone who asks for them.
Even families that are already savvy enough to have a corporate health plan can make savings of €200 by moving to one of the new corporate plans that are being launched.
Some have already been brought out, with others due in the next three weeks.
The launch of new, lower-cost health plans will come as a welcome relief – just days before a seventh austerity Budget that is set to hit households.
Aviva will have 15 new corporate plans by the start of next month. It will then have 23 of these plans available.
VHI will have 32 corporate plans, when it launches two new ones on November 2.
Both Laya and GloHealth are also launching new company schemes.
"We are seeing a corporate plan price war between health insurers and it will benefit hard-pressed consumers," said health insurance expert Dermot Goode.
He warned consumers that insurers will not tell them about the better value available when opting for a corporate plan over a standard consumer health plan.
"Health insurers are battling it out to win lucrative 'company-paid' schemes. For consumers, corporate plans offer the best value cover," added Mr Goode, of Healthinsurancesavings.ie.
He said savings of €600 a year could be made by a family of two adults and two children who swap a standard consumer plan for the new plans.
Even families already on a corporate could save €200 a year by opting for one of the new corporate schemes, he said.
These represent savings of between 15pc and 20pc for families switching from older corporate plans to the next generation of these schemes.
Corporate plans – also known as "company-paid" plans – tend to be cheaper than standard family plans and offer better benefits.
But consumers can still "piggyback" on the benefits that a corporate plan offers, simply by asking their insurer for the plan by name.
Most company schemes are renewed between December and January, which has prompted a rush of new plans ahead of the renewal period.
Mr Goode urged consumers to make savings by opting for these plans, which have a number of advantages:
* Health benefits are being reduced on most standard consumer plans. But switching to a corporate plan will mean families will be able to keep their existing benefits.
* Even those who have an existing corporate plan will save money by moving to one of the 19 new plans which have just been launched or are due to be unveiled at the start of next month.
* Those who do not want to move from one insurer to another could still save by signing up for one of the new plans.
* Most corporate plans offer payments towards the cost of attending a GP, unlike standard consumer plans.
* Corporate plans usually cover hi-tech hospitals such as Dublin's Blackrock Clinic or the Mater Private in Cork.
* On the downside, families may have to pay the first €50 to €150 of a claim for hospital treatment with these plans.
Families on VHI's Health Plus Extra could save more than €2,000 a year by opting for VHI's PMI 32 12 for the adults, and by putting the children on One Plan Family.
Mr Goode said a saving of €1,900 could be achieved by a family of two adults insured with Laya switching from Essential Plus (No Excess) to Laya's ConnectCare for the adults and Essential Connect for the children.
A full list of the plans is available on the website of the state regulator the Health Insurance Authority, at www.hia.ie.
Mr Goode said that families that have not reviewed their cover in the past three years need to consider one of these plans as a matter of urgency.
"If you like the price and the benefits of one of the corporate plans, simply ask for it by name and it must be given to you," he added.