FAMILIES are facing having to shell out up to €350 more a year for health insurance after the VHI said it was pushing through a raft of price rises.
VHI premiums will go up by as much as 8.5pc from March 1 as the state-owned insurer imposes its fifth hike in premiums in two years. The rises work out at an average of 6pc for its 1.2 million customers.
Premiums for a family with two adults and two children go up by between €100 a year and €350. Those on higher-level plans are facing the highest percentage increases.
A family with two adults and two children on the popular 'Parents & Kids' plan is facing a €232 a year rise in premiums to €3,136 when they renew after March, according to Dermot Goode of Healthinsurancesavings.ie.
The Irish Patients' Association has warned that many people simply cannot afford the increased premiums.
"Some industry sources suggest to us that around 5,000 people a month are leaving private health insurance," said Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients' Association.
Earlier this month, GloHealth chief executive Jim Dowdall said 188,000 people had given up health insurance since the downturn began in 2008.
The most recent price rise was just last November when premiums were raised by 3pc. Last March there were increases of between 6pc and 12.5pc and the previous November there was a 1.9pc rise.
"The other concern is that by giving up health insurance, people are joining a queue of 350,000. You could be waiting a long time for a first appointment with a consultant and eight or nine months for your operation," said Mr McMahon.
The company said its most popular plans – One Plus Plan and One Plan Choice – will see price increases of 4.5pc.
VHI said the price increase was driven by a number of factors, including the increasing volume and cost of claims, an ageing membership and what it said was an ineffective risk-equalisation scheme.
It argued that while ongoing medical innovations were welcome, they were having a massive impact on the cost of care.
And VHI warned that the current risk-equalisation scheme, which effectively compensates the VHI through levies on all policies because it has most of the older customers, is insufficient to cover the healthcare costs of older customers.
Its chief executive John O'Dwyer said: "We are aware of the enormous financial pressures facing our customers and have sought to keep the price increase as low as possible."