Extra 74,000 take out health insurance
Health insurers are set to come under huge pressure to avoid premium hikes after the numbers taking out cover to avoid new penalties surpassed expectations.
An extra 74,000 people took out health insurance in April ahead of the introduction of late-entry penalties as part of lifetime community rating.
State-owned VHI Healthcare and rival Laya are understood to have been the main beneficiaries of the rush to take out health insurance. However, the age profile of the new entrants is not known.
The introduction of the lifetime community rating from May 1 will see anyone aged over 34, who takes out insurance for the first time, penalised at a rate of 2pc on top of the cost of their premium for every year they stay out of the market after the deadline.
The Department of Health brought in the measure in an attempt to curb rising premiums, and encourage younger people to join up.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said since the start of the year an extra 80,000 people had taken out health insurance, a move that would stem the rise in premiums.
"This increase in the number of people holding health insurance is extremely welcome as it helps to control premium inflation and helps to keep health insurance affordable for all," he said.
Premiums have been spiralling up for seven years in a row, but the rises were muted this year.
The membership of VHI, Laya, Aviva or Glo have now risen for three quarters in a row. The number of people who currently hold health insurance now stands at 2.105 million. This is the level the market was at in December 2012.
Health insurance expert Dermot Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie said a surge in numbers with cover was greater than expected.
"It's a complete reversal of the trend from previous years, which saw between 20,000 to 24,000 members leave the market in the first quarter of each year," he said.
"This should lead to further stabilisation of pricing and hopefully no further increases from any insurer during 2015."