Thursday 18 January 2018

As a matter of policy shop around for top health cover

SO when is this eagerly awaited new health insurer going to open up shop? More importantly, will it swoop in with slashed cover prices and really put it up to VHI and the rest?

Veteran health market aces Jim Dowdall and Oliver Tattan's Dunnari are signing up with brokers and opening for business in a matter of weeks, we hear.

With health cover rocketing in price anything that makes insurance cheaper would be welcome, especially a bit of decent market competition.

"Price is king right now," says Dermot Goode of healthinsurancesavings.ie. "The ideal plan is often no longer available at an affordable price, so you need to box clever and make choices."

The new HIA survey released last week shows the hunt is on for value -- thousands of people are switching either policy or provider.

You can make relatively minor changes that could save hundreds, sometimes without even changing insurer. And remember ditching health cover and going public is not free. "It costs €75 per night for a hospital bed, unless you have a medical card -- and of course you can lose a medical card," says Goode. "That's €750 for 10 nights. You can buy health insurance from €450.

"People think children get preferential treatment in the public system -- but children end up on waiting lists too, and are also charged €75 per night for beds. You'll insure a child for €195. If you wait until they're older to insure them, existing complaints won't be covered at that stage," he warns.

There are several ways to keep good cover for less.

Policy clones

Insurers clone existing plans, put a cheaper price tag on them and call them something else, but only offer them to younger customers. You need to ask the right questions to get them -- and get cover for as much as one-third less.

"We do mystery shopping all the time, and we find that you have to request these plans," says Goode.

The corporate versions of many policies are almost identical to other plans, with one stark difference -- the stonking great price.

"Corporate equivalents give savings of at least 10 per cent -- but it could be 40 per cent," says Goode.

• VHI's Plan B costs €1,364. Its PMI 2812, a corporate plan, costs €915. That's almost 30 per cent saved.

• And Aviva's Level 2 Hospital is €1,291, while its uncannily comparable Business Plan Select is €978 -- 25 per cent knocked off.

• Laya's Essential Plus with Excess costs €1,240. Its virtual doppelganger is Company Care Plus Choice costing €974 and saving you 20 per cent. (Laya is Quinn Healthcare's new name).

Always check the fine print, naturally. You can do that at www.hia.ie

Split cover

By breaking up that family cover instead of buying the one-policy-fits-all option you can get everyone well covered but take the price down.

"This is a no-brainer way to save if you have children, without jeopardising the level of cover you're getting," says Goode. "You can get excellent cover for a child for under €200, still on a high plan, but with reduced costs."

• Laya Essential Plus No Excess costs €378 for each child versus Essential Connect at €190.

• It costs €273 for Level 2 Hospital plan with Aviva for a child. On Aviva's Level 2 Family Health it would be €200.

• The VHI Health Plus Extra is €357 per child, but for VHI One Plus child cover is €232.

There are three main differences: the lower priced plans might have an excess for private hospitals, it may not cover a private room in a public hospital and there may be limited cover for hi-tech hospitals such as Blackrock Clinic and the Beacon, but for young children, most paediatric surgery would be in Temple Street or Crumlin hospitals.

Student rates

You could be paying as much as €700 too much for cover for someone in third level. "The student rate might be €300-€400 while the adult rate might be €1,000-plus, so there are huge savings to be made, but again if you don't ask you might not have it," Goode says.

Day-to-day cover

Add-ons like GP visits, physiotherapy sessions or acupuncture might be costing you more than you get out of them.

"If somebody is seriously worried about affording insurance, one way to cut your cloth is by stripping out day-to-day options," Goode suggests.

Save with excess

It's not just the corporate plans that are hit by the 'attack of the clones'. Without even changing insurance company you could take €200 off cover costs by accepting a similar policy with a small excess.

• VHI Health Plus Access costs €1,364, but its Health Plus Excess costs €1,236.

The difference, obviously, is the excess: the latter plan carries an excess of €75 per admission to hospital. But you'd have to rack up two hospital visits in a year to wipe out the value of the saving.

• Laya Essential Plus costs €1,480, but Quinn Essential Plus Excess is €1,240, with a €125 excess per hospital stay.

• Aviva Level 2 Hospital costs €1,291, while its Level 2 Health Excess costs €883, with a €125 excess.

"If you're relatively healthy it's well worth opting for one of these, for 90 per cent of people," Goode says. "But some have excesses for private hospitals, so if you have a recurring condition and need to go to hospital several times a year, it might not be value for money."

Switch challenges

You can certainly save money if you switch: the difference between very similar plans with different insurers can be €200-€300.

However, it's getting harder to do it. VHI are penalising people who try to change or cancel policies mid contract, costing you €300 or so. The other providers are likely to start doing the same. To give yourself change options, you must review and change within 14 days of the policy expiring.

Get advice

With more than 200 plans on the market it can be a labyrinthine nightmare trying to find value. Comparing on www.hia.ie can help. As will getting advice from an expert.

Independent advisers have a few tricks up their sleeves for helping you cut through the clutter and save.

Sunday Indo Business

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