Health

Friday 1 August 2014

How to pick best lower-cost health policy for your family

Families can be left hoping their policies will be enough when the time comes – but there are alternatives

Charlie Weston

Published 16/07/2014|02:30

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INTENSE competition among the four health insurers to keep families with children on their books has prompted the launch of a range of lower-priced plans. These new plans have been launched because most of those ditching their cover are in their 30s and 40s, with young children.

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This age group is being driven out of the market by the doubling in the cost of cover since the savage squeeze on household incomes began in 2008.

But consumers opting for these new low-cost plans have been warned that they come with a number of important drawbacks.

These new plans typically restrict the number and types of hospitals covered. Some only cover public hospitals, and then only a limited number of these.

Another feature of the new low-cost plans is that many of them have co-payments on certain restricted procedures that are carried out in private hospitals. This is where you have to make a payment towards the treatment.

Consumers are also being forced to take on policy excesses for all admissions to private hospitals. This is where you pay the first amount of the claim for hospital treatment.

When first launched, these ranged from €75 to €125 per admission.

However, these have increased to over €500 per admission on certain plans as consumers are now forced to accept higher levels of risk in return for lower costs, according to Dermot Goode of HealthInsuranceSavings.ie.

Previously, hi-tech cardiac cover was included on most plans to give consumers access to the likes of Blackrock Clinic, Mater Private and Beacon Hospital – all in Dublin – for certain major cardiac procedures.

However, many of the latest mid-level plans now exclude these hospitals as the insurers try to reduce their costs to offer lower premium plans.

Network plans are now commonplace across the market which refers to products that cover "most" public and private hospitals.

Mr Goode said: "Gone are the days where all public and private hospitals are guaranteed to be covered.

"Consumers now have to ensure that the plan selected covers their preferred hospitals. They also need to accept the additional risk that they may be referred to a hospital not covered by their plan."

The bottom line is that health insurance used to be relatively straightforward in that all mid-level plans covered all hospitals with no excesses (excluding hi-tech facilities).

Now consumers are being forced to "gamble" by opting for lower levels of cover that they hope will meet their requirements if hospital treatment is required, Mr Goode added.

In the past two weeks, the second largest health insurer, Laya Healthcare, announced price cuts of between 10pc and 30pc.

The reductions, which come into effect from August 1, include policies which members can tailor to meet their own needs under its "Create Your Scheme" offer.

It is also cutting the adult rate on five other products by up to 22pc; Essential Connect, Essential First, Essential Connect Saver, Essential Starter and Essential Plus Excess.

A spokesman said that currently members pay from €44.18 per month for an adult and €17.85 per month for a child, for health insurance cover with "Create Your Scheme".

From August 1 this option is subject to a 30pc reduction for a child, reducing to €13.21.

Where a member makes a choice on the level of cover to suit their needs, the percentage price reduction would vary.

Managing director Donal Clancy said: "Our promise to members is that we are looking after you always. We are continuously striving to do that in every way possible and we are now offering major reductions on our most popular products."

Irish Independent

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