Health insurance: reviewing cover is a sure way to cut costs
Reviewing your family's health insurance cover is a sure-fire way to reduce costs as a marketing war between the three providers has led to some great deals this month, writes John Cradden
IF you have a young family and are still looking for ways to cut your everyday expenses, you could do worse than review your private health insurance cover before the end of this month.
Competition to sign up lucrative parents with young children has intensified among the three health insurance providers.
In recent months, a marketing war has broken out between VHI, Aviva and Quinn -- offering not just heavily discounted health plans for adults, but free cover for children on some of their plans.
"We're entering the time of year when the insurers traditionally increase their rates," says insurance broker Dermot Goode, who runs Healthinsurancesavings.ie.
"So any changes made now will be locked in at today's rates for the next 12 months."
By acting immediately, you could cut the cost of covering your children by up to 100pc for the next 12 months -- which can translate into a saving of up to €650, he says.
For instance, VHI is offering to insure children for nothing on its popular Plan B Parents and Kids policy for those who sign up before October 3 next.
Any members insured on these plans will save between €191 and €197 for each child -- which gives a maximum saving of €591 for up to three children.
VHI has also been offering free cover for children on their new One Plus Plan since August 1.
Quinn Healthcare is offering free cover for children and students on its Essential Health plan. This plan would normally cost €171 per child.
Aviva is offering its Level 2 Hospital plan, which is equivalent to VHI's Plan B, at a reduced cost of €780 per adult (normally €825) and €95 per child (normally €190).
The firm has also just launched a new version of their Level 1 Hospital plan for children, and all children will be free on this plan, although it's not yet clear how long the free cover will available for.
As it stands, most of these special offers will expire at the end of this month, so you'll need to hurry.
Such offers will be welcome news for those struggling with the ever-rising costs of their policies.
A recent survey by the Health Insurance Authority, which regulates the health insurance sector, showed there was an increase in the number of people cancelling their policies, to 15pc of the insured population.
Not surprisingly, the main reason cited for cancelling cover was its rising cost -- and in the last two years, the number of those who have lost their jobs has also emerged as a significant factor.
But if you were thinking of cancelling health insurance, the good news is that there are a number of ridiculously easy steps you can take to reduce the cost of your cover significantly.
A family could consider changes to their policy that could include any one or a combination of availing of the current special offers, downgrading to a cheaper plan, switching providers and switching to a corporate plan.
For example, if you are insured with Quinn on the Essential Plus Excess scheme with two children, Mr Goode says you can reduce your costs by €520 if you switch your children to the Essential Health Scheme, which covers them free of charge -- at least for the next 12 months.
Downgrading your children's cover makes sense in general. As more than one commentator has pointed out, there are no private children's hospitals in this country.
You could also go a bit further along the downgrading route by switching the adults to a cheaper policy too. For instance, a family of three children could save up to €655 per year if they downgraded from Plan B to the new One Plus Plan, although they'll need to do this before the end of the month to avail of the 12-months-free children's cover.
"People need to be careful regarding some of the new plans that are being marketed. They are very attractive in terms of price but they need to understand that they are not always comparing like with like," says Mr Goode.
If you are a parent insured on Aviva's basic Level 1 policy, you literally won't have to do anything to gain savings, as your children will be covered by this plan for free, although it's not yet clear how long this offer will last.
But if you don't want to downgrade, you can cut the cost of your health cover by around €400 and actually increase the level of benefits by opting for "corporate" plans.
These plans are generally only available to those on mid-level policies (such as Plan B) or higher, but healthcare providers do not advertise the fact that they are better value for individuals.
Corporate plans are only marketed to companies when health insurers are trying to sign up all the firm's staff, but by law they must be available to everyone.
For parents of newborn children, it's worth noting that all insurers provide free cover for newborns on any plan up to the next renewal date of your policy.
But make sure that the child is added to a policy within 13 weeks of being born, otherwise waiting periods will apply.