Emigrants help boost numbers with health insurance
There has been a fresh rise in the number of people with health insurance despite a recent string of price hikes.
Returning emigrants and foreign-owned companies buying cover for their staff are behind the increase.
The total with cover is back to a six-year high of 2.16 million subscribers. This is a rise of 24,000 over the last year. Another 103,000 were insured with products solely providing outpatient benefits or health insurance cash plans.
The percentage of the population with inpatient health insurance plans stood at 45.8pc at end of June, the Health Insurance Authority (HIA), the regulator for the sector, said.
Health insurance broker Dermot Goode said the numbers with cover have been boosted by foreign-owned companies paying for their staff's health insurance cover. They are using this as an incentive to recruit qualified staff.
Returning emigrants are also pushing up the numbers. People returning to live here can take out a policy again if they are over the age of 34 and avoid loadings on the premium, as long as they sign up for cover inside nine months of coming back to live here.
Despite the rise in the numbers taking out health insurance with Vhi, Laya and Irish Life Health, the total is below the highs reached before the financial meltdown.
There are still 140,000 fewer people with cover since 2008, when 2.297 million had a policy.
Mr Goode said the recovery in the market was still tentative.
"Is the market in recovery? There are only an extra 5,000 taking out health cover in the last six months. A few more increases and that could be wiped out," Mr Goode, of TotalHealthCover.ie, said.
Laya has imposed three price rises since January, with an average rise of around 5pc each time, he said.
There have been two rises imposed by both the Vhi and Irish Life Health in the last eight to 12 months, but these increases have been more modest.
The levy on each policy by the Government rose by 10pc to €448 per adult in April.
Mr Goode said the levy now makes up around a third of the cost of the average policy.
Pressure on premiums is coming from a marked increase in public hospitals charging insurers for those who have health insurance even when they only receive public hospital treatments.
The HIA revealed this summer that older people are paying on average 30pc more for cover than younger people.
This is because they tend to stay on the legacy plans which have seen the sharpest rises in prices.