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Counting the cost of health

Big increases are on the way, writes Charlie Weston, but by acting now it is still possible to save hundreds of euro and still retain good cover

THIS is the worst time of the year for all of those people who have private health insurance as this is the period when all three insurers announce price increases.

Around 850,000 consumers will be renewing their cover in the first three months of this year and they will be the first to be affected by recent increases.

Quinn has increased the cost of its mainstream plans by between 7pc and 25pc, effective from the first of this month.

The VHI has already increased some of its corporate plans by between 1.4pc and 15pc, effective from December 16 last. But more increases are expected on other plans from early this month, according to Dermot Goode of www.healthinsurancesavings.ie (a trading name of Cornmarket Group Financial Services).

"If 2011 is anything to go by, we can expect the VHI to increase its individual plans in the next few weeks," Mr Goode said.

Aviva has announced that it is going to increase all of its individual, or consumer, plans by 15pc from February.

These hikes follow on from Health Minister James Reilly's decision to increase the public hospital charges from January 1 and also the expected annual rise in health insurance levies.

There could also be further increases again if any new measures are introduced to charge higher costs in public hospitals to those that have private health insurance, Mr Goode added.

Approximately 125,000 VHI customers changed their renewal dates last January to avoid the previous price hikes, he explained.

"While they might avoid the latest increases, they will still see their premiums rise by between 15pc and 48pc depending on which plan they hold as the previous increases kick in."

However, there is still some good news for consumers. By acting now, it is still possible to save hundreds of euro on your costs and still retain good cover.

Mr Goode feels it is vital that you get proper advice as numerous contracts have been changed.

He stressed that two insurers have introduced "restricted illnesses" clauses into private healthcare contracts, which means you will no longer be fully covered for these procedures in private hospitals.

And the VHI now locks you into annual contracts. This stops consumers from cancelling or amending their cover throughout the term, with financial penalties payable for breach of this contract.

It is now critical that all health insurance members review their cover properly prior to their renewal date, Mr Goode said.

Irish Independent Supplement