Price boost as up to 100,000 go for health cover
As many as 100,000 people have signed up for health cover ahead of the deadline for lifetime community rating - which should put pressure on insurers to keep premiums low.
All four insurers reported a large jump in the numbers signing up to beat the deadline for the introduction of penalties on those over the age of 34.
Lifetime community rating means people over the age of 34 who missed the deadline to purchase in-patient private health insurance will have to pay a loaded premium.
This will cost them up to a maximum of 70pc, for the rest of their life.
However, years of rising health insurance premiums for struggling families are now likely to be at an end as insurers succeeded in signing up a large number of new customers.
Signing up young and relatively health customers is a key issue for insurers.
Health insurance expert Dermot Goode said the early indications were that between 75,000 and 100,000 people signed up ahead of Thursday night's deadline.
This was way above expectations, he said. There was an even split between people buying quality health cover and those buying a cheap, entry-level plan.
However no breakdown of the age groups of those buying health insurance was available.
Earlier this year, the regulator, the Health Insurance Authority, had estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 people would be prompted to sign up by the new rules.
Mr Goode said: "If it proves that the numbers are double what was at first expected then that is hugely positive. It should ease the pressure on pricing.
"It will be very difficult for insurers to justify big increases going forward," Mr Goode, of Totalhealthcover.ie said.
Laya Healthcare would not provide numbers on how many policies it sold.
But a spokesperson added: "Sales for those who are new to health insurance were up over 2,000pc this week when compared to the same week in 2014."
VHI was also unable to provide exact numbers.
But it did say that sales traffic on the deadline day to its customer care teams was up more than 1,100pc on the same day last year.
"We had over 10,000 hits on website www.vhi.ie on Thursday," a spokeswoman said.
GloHealth said more than 10,000 people signed up with it to avoid ever having to pay the lifetime community rating loadings.
And Aviva reported "unprecedented" numbers signing up for cover.
"We've doubled our expectations. We are particularly pleased with the web sales."
The insurer is understood to have sold 10 times more on the web on Thursday than in the whole month of April last year.
The last-minute rush continued right the way to midnight.
But people over the age of 34 who missed the deadline and now take out health insurance face a penalty of a loading on their premiums.
The new scheme, introduced by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, means that those taking out health insurance for the first time will pay an extra 2pc levy for every year after the age of 34.
The Department of Health said this is to ensure everyone can continue to pay the same premium, regardless of age or health.