FAMILIES are being warned they could end up overpaying by up to €2,000 for their health insurance unless they closely examine their policies and renewal costs.
Around half a million people are due to renew their policies in January alone. But the cost of policies has shot up due to price rises imposed by health insurers and because of severe cuts to tax reliefs in the Budget.
The hikes could see families being asked to shell out an extra €2,000 to insure two adults and two children, Dermot Goode of Healthinsurancesavings.ie said.
Mr Goode did an analysis of existing plans and found that by moving between plans, and staying with the same insurer, it is possible to save between a third and a half of the prices now being quoted to renew a family policy.
"These savings ranged from between €1,595 and €2,360 based on a family of two adults and two children who are insured on some of the older level two hospital plans.
"Given that there will shortly be close to 300 plans on the market, it should be possible in many cases to either maintain or even reduce your healthcare costs," he said.
He cautioned families to avoid "sleep-walking" into paying too much when renewal notices go out to 500,000 people in the coming weeks.
"This month will see thousands of households across the country receive their health insurance renewal notice. This gives people the entire month of December to review their health insurance cover and make savings," Mr Goode said.
Mr Goode said a family on VHI's Healthplus Extra plan could save €1,595 by opting for VHI's Teachers' Plan.
The downside is that there are 22 procedures, such as hip replacements and cataract treatments, where the family has to cover 20pc of the cost if carried out in a private hospital.
And a family on Aviva's Level Two Complete Health could save €2,360 by choosing Aviva's Nurses' and Teachers' Choice plan.
There are 10 procedures that a payment of €2,000 would have to be made by the family if done in a private hospital. And the Beacon private hospital in Dublin is not covered.
Consumers can switch providers with no loss of cover if they are opting for a plan with similar benefits.
There are 250 different plans in the market -- but this is set to jump to 300 with the VHI and Laya Healthcare expected to launch new policies this month.
But Mr Goode said there was a huge risk people would forget about the urgency of sorting out their health insurance renewal because of the mayhem of Christmas preparations.
The health insurance expert said those renewing on January 1 only have a matter of days -- otherwise they may find themselves stuck in a contract and end up paying higher premiums than they need to for another 12 months.
This year health insurance has been hit hard by reduced tax relief, higher levies and a spate of premium increases.
"Having spent the previous month trying to control their pre-Christmas spending, many people inadvertently accept year-on-year increases of up to 20pc on their health insurances costs," he said.
All four insurers -- Laya Healthcare, Vhi Healthcare, GloHealth and Aviva Health -- have new 12-month contracts which mean there is only a short window over the Christmas period to look for special offers available.