Families forced to ditch health insurance because they can't afford it are turning to cash plans for their medical expenses.
These give money back for a wide range of expenses but will not cover the hospital bill.
Close to 300,000 people have dropped their health insurance, with most no longer able to afford cover due to spiralling premiums and shrinking incomes.
Now new research by Dermot Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie has concluded that medical cash plans offer a low-cost alternative for those who no longer have health insurance.
Cash plans give people money back for a range of medical expenses such as GP and dental visits. Many also give money back for overnight stays in hospitals.
But they are not insurance, as the payouts are capped and will not cover the full bill. Mr Goode said: "They are not a substitute for full health insurance, but for thousands that have already opted out of medical insurance, cash plans are worth considering, especially for families."
Not-for-profit organisation HSF Health Plan is the longest established cash plan provider and covers 100,000 people.
Insurers VHI, Laya and GloHealth all now offer a range of cash plans, Mr Goode said.
He said family cash plans were the best value. Consumers should seek a cash plan that covers the state in-patient charge for public hospitals of €75 a night, which is payable by anyone who does not have a medical card.
He said GloHealth's Hospital Care Best for families covers 20 nights in hospital, paying out up to €120 a night.
It costs €600 per family for a year, compared with €1,500 to €3,000 a year for health insurance. The HSF Family Direct Scheme A covers 40 nights in hospital, up to €80 a night. It also covers 100pc of dental and optical costs - up to €500 - and money back for GP visits.
The VHI and Laya top plans are slightly cheaper. VHI's Family Level 2 scheme costs €590 for the family and provides a similar range of benefits to the other plans.
Laya's Money Smart 40 Family scheme costs €550 for the family. Glo's Activate cash plans allow people to step up to full health insurance.