Go corporate for healthier finances
This is the busiest time of year for renewals of health cover, writes Charlie Weston, so make sure you avoid some of the common pitfalls and secure the best deal for you and your family
THIS is the busiest time for health insurance renewals with nearly half the market renewing their policy between January and March.
Many consumers find the prospect of reviewing their cover daunting.
But with more than 400 plans on the market and new plans coming on-stream almost monthly, there is excellent value to be found if you know where to look, according to broker Dermot Goode of www.totalhealthcover.ie.
"Typically, the best deals are offered to corporate clients or company-paid group schemes, but anyone can join these so-called corporate plans," he says.
These typically represent the best value in the market for those happy with semi-private cover and happy to take on a small excess per admission in private hospitals only.
Mr Goode provided the following table (right) which summarises some of the best corporate plans available right now.
He says that for those still insured on dated public-hospital-only plans, it is possible to double your cover to includes private hospital coverage as well, but still reduce your overall spend.
The table below highlights alternative plans with each insurer that will save you money for better cover.
He says that one point to watch is the "upgrade rule" which applies across all insurers.
"If a change of plan gives you better overall cover, all insurers are entitled to restrict your benefits to that payable on your previous plan for the next two years for any pre-existing conditions.
"If you're on one of the public-hospital plans listed on the main table (above right), you need to act now," he says.
Having quality cover in place gives you peace of mind, but, asks Mr Goode, do you know what's covered by your plan? He lists some of the most common mistakes which can cost you dearly.
1 Too many families keep everyone on the same plan and pay too much. Consider splitting your cover to reduce your costs. Maybe put the children on a lower plan to grab one of the discounted offers.
2 Taking on a small excess is a great way of reducing costs. An excess is the amount you have to pay when you make a claim. Try and avoid high-excess plans which can mount up in the event of a medical problem. If you fall ill and you want access to a private hospital such as the Beacon Hospital, Hermitage Clinic or any of the Bon Secours hospitals, you need to maintain a good standard of cover with a reasonable excess.
3 Beware the upgrade rule which catches everyone out. Reducing your cover may make sense if you're perfectly healthy, but if you have an existing medical condition, think again. If in doubt, get good advice.
4 If you have adult dependents aged between 21 and 25, make sure you are availing of the new Young Adult Rates (YAR), which will reduce costs substantially. However, not all plans have these. If you are being charged a full adult rate, look to switch your cover.
5 Watch out for co-payments, which are a common feature on many plans. For example, for major orthopaedic surgery in private hospitals, you could face a shortfall of 20pc of the hospital bill or a fixed payment of €2,000, depending on the insurer. Laya is the only insurer in the market not to have this restriction on its policies.
6 MRI scans are commonplace now, but still members are paying up-front for such scans. Always check with your insurer and try and access one of their preferred providers and you should be fully covered.
7 Psychiatric cover is a key element of health insurance plans. If you have a dependent in need of ongoing psychiatric treatment, you may wish to leave them on an older health plan covering 180 days per year, rather than most new policies, which only cover 100 days.
8 Too many people fail to claim their tax refunds. Any portion of a claim not covered by your insurer should be included in your tax claim for a 20pc rebate at year-end (check the Revenue website for eligible expenses). For those who have their cover paid for by their employer, they need to claim their tax relief manually and they can go back four years if necessary.
9 Health insurance is complex. Irrespective of what plan you hold, always check your cover in advance of any treatment directly with the health insurer to avoid incurring unnecessary shortfalls.
Inertia, complacency, fear of switching are all factors that will cost you dearly. Think of your cover as you would any other insurance and shop around at each renewal.
Look out for these Great value plans
Dermot Goode of totalhealthcover.ie has listed some of the following deals:
* VHI is offering half-price cover on all their One Plans, such as One Plus Plan, One Plan Family and also the Nurses Select and Teachers Select schemes. For a family of two adults and two children, this is an approximate saving of €260 for the year.
* Aviva has two plans on special offer for children under 18 at present. The child rate on its Select Plus has been reduced to €168 per child and on its Family Focus, it has been reduced to €179 per child. The latter plan includes three GP visits at €30 each with no excess to pay first.
* GloHealth has a new suite of lifestyle products. For example, on its Bloom plans, all children under three are free of charge, while on some of the Nurture plans, all children under 12 are half-price. Unlike the other insurers that have periodic offers, these price concessions are permanent features of these plans.
* Laya has opted to put a price-freeze promotion into the market instead of discounts on child cover. For example, you can buy its entry level Future Protect plan at €495 now and renew again in January 2017 at the same price. For public and private hospital cover, you can opt for the Flex 175 Explore at €954 and pay the same price again in January 2017.
* For those families looking for alternative cover, especially for everyday medical expenses such as GP, dental and optical, they should really consider taking out a family cash plan. HSF Health Plan has a range of plans to suit all budgets and you can claim as you go on its plans with no annual contract.
* For those who want a specialist dental plan to cover major treatments, there are a number of options in the market, but DeCare Dental has the widest choice of plans to suit all budgets.