Sunday 21 December 2014

Health cover soon only for the wealthy

Published 08/12/2012 | 17:00

Thousands of letters have been going out this week to householders asking them to sign up for another year with their health insurer.

The December-January period is a key time for health insurance renewals. Many families may decide not to renew.

A sixth tough Budget, which is expected to suck up to €1,000 from a typical middle-income family, and never-ending rises in health premiums are making medical cover unaffordable.

Recent figures show that almost 200,000 people ditched health cover since the downturn began in 2008. Some 2.1 million people now have health cover.

What is remarkable, given the severity of the downturn, is that more people have not been forced to give up their policies.

However, the latest 23pc rise in the levy imposed on every policy risks making health insurance merely the preserve of the wealthy – with health experts warning that the higher levies will spark a new round of premium hikes.

The levies are part of a formal risk-equalisation scheme to replace the current one. Risk equalisation is a way of ensuring everyone pays the same for health insurance. The new scheme incorporates a credit being paid to health insurers for every night an insured person spends in hospital. Despite that, the higher levies will still add to the cost pressures on health insurance firms.

The levy for adults whose plan entitles them to treatment in a private hospital will surge by 23pc to €350, a letter from the Department of Health shows.

Given all of this, plans by Minister James Reilly to force health insurers to pay up every time someone with health insurance enters a hospital – whether or not they get a private or semi-private room – is set to make matters worse.

The Government seems to think that the solution to the deficit problems is to keeping squeezing the middle. It is time there was a realisation that middle Ireland has nothing left to give.

Policy decisions that force people to drop health cover will put even more pressure on the public system.

Irish Independent

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