The country faces a health insurance crisis as tens of thousands of the young and healthy abandon private cover because of rocketing prices.
An increase in the Government's health insurance levy at the end of March threatens a further exodus of those aged between 25 and 34, with insurance companies already reporting a significant rise in cancellations.
Health insurance expert Dermot Goode of Cornmarket says rates have gone up by 20 per cent in the past year and even more on some top-of-the-range plans.
"We are seeing a continuing exodus of young people from the market, so much so that it is threatening the sustainability of this community-rated market," he told the Sunday Independent.
The figures are alarming. About 200,000 people have left the market in the past four years.
"Some people will say that is only a small percentage of the overall market but that's not the point. The problem is that it is all the young people, aged 25 to 34," said Mr Goode.
"It's forcing young, healthy people out of the market for two reasons. Firstly, they don't think it's good value anymore. They have never been on a waiting list, never been to hospital and so don't see the very great value of health insurance. It's low on their list of priorities.
"The second reason is that they simply don't have the money to pay for it. What is also happening is that mum and dad are taking the young people off the family policy."
This time last year, in the first quarter of 2012, more than 25,000 people cancelled their cover, compared with 15,000 in the first three months of 2011.
"The first quarter of each year is the peak time for renewals. About 850,000 of the 2.1 million policyholders renew in the first three months of each year," Mr Goode said.
"I think we will see exactly the same this year. Already the insurance companies are telling me they have seen a marked increase in the rate of cancellations. It is down to affordability, and emigration.
"We have never experienced the volume of calls of people trying to find the best value. People who would normally just renew their cover are not doing so because they just haven't got the money."
From March 31, Health Minister James Reilly is increasing the health insurance levy by about 23 or 24 per cent.
"That will also no doubt be passed on. It will make a bad situation worse. People think that having two million people insured is fantastic. It is not," said Mr Goode.
"With young people leaving, it means the average claims cost from those that are left will go up."
Every policy has a temporary levy of €285 imposed on it. This money is put into a fund and then redistributed to the VHI in order to compensate it for having many more older customers.
Now a higher levy of €350 will apply to all adult policies.
The new levy will amount to more than half the cost of typical basic plans, which range from €504 to €613 for an adult.