Saturday 21 September 2019

Elderly are 'being hit hardest' as health cover prices rise

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Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Health insurers have been accused of discriminating against older people after it emerged the plans favoured by the aged have been singled out for some of the highest increases.

All three providers have increased their prices across the board, but the hardest hit have been plans older members take out.

Older couples on the popular Health Plus Extra, which used to be called Plan B Options, are facing paying an extra €370 a year to renew on this scheme, an analysis by Dermot Goode of shows.

Chairman of the Consumers' Association Michael Kilcoyne accused insurers of singling out older people for the sharpest price rises, in what he said was a discriminatory move.

"The insurers are acting in a discriminatory manner because they are putting the biggest price rises on the plans that older people opt for, the ones that fully cover the likes of hip replacements."

He said the best-value plans are not an option for elderly people as they do not fully cover age-related procedures.

Some of the smaller price increases are on plans that do not fully cover the likes of hip replacements and cataract operations, and so do not tend to be taken out by older people.

Plans that restrict cover for age-related medical procedures, such as hip surgery, are up to 30pc cheaper than other policies, regulator the Health Insurance Authority has found.

Now a new analysis of the latest price increases shows Vhi, Laya and Irish Life Health have increased their prices by an average of between 3pc and 6pc. But the increases for the health plans most keenly bought by older people have been up 10pc.

Insurers have blamed increased claims costs despite an extra 200,000 people paying for health cover, taking the total to 2.47 million.

And the research by Mr Goode warns of more price rises to come.

He said the latest hikes would wipe out the reductions announced by health insurers in the last two years.

"Our analysis shows that older members are predominantly on the more expensive, dated plans which means they will be hardest hit by these price increases," he said.

Mr Goode calculated that a retired couple on Vhi's Health Plus Extra plan (which used to be called B Options) will have to pay €370 more to stay on this plan.

The 8pc increase will see the adult cost of the plan rise to €2,500 a year.

The Vhi's Health Plus Premium goes up by 10pc, costing a couple an extra €640 a year.

Laya's Essential Plus Excess will cost a retired couple €336 more a year. A retired couple will have to pay an additional €240 a year to stay on the Flex 125 Choice.

Older couples with Irish Life Health will have to pay €328 more a year to renew their Level 2 Hospital cover.

Mr Goode said too few older people shop around as they worry about changing plans.

Asked if they were discriminating against older people by targeting plans favoured by them for the highest rises, Vhi, Laya and Irish Life all denied this was the case.

Vhi said it encourages all customers to contact it in advance of renewing to ensure their cover is appropriate for their needs.

Laya said it welcomes members of all ages.

Irish Life Health said it operates in a community-rated market so members of any age can be covered on any of its plans.

Irish Independent

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