Health insurance rates are on the rise again. Following on from the Laya increase in September of an average of 4pc, VHI has announced its plans will be increasing from November 1 by an average of 2pc.
GloHealth and Aviva announced similar increases earlier in the year.
Health insurance expert Dermot Goode of totalhealthcover.ie warns consumers to be careful of these average figures.
Some Laya plans increased by up to 11pc, and some of VHI's plans will increase by up to 5pc. This could add an extra €100 or more to a typical family healthcare bill, he said. So why aren't more consumers switching for better deals? Mr Goode said there are a number of reasons for this, including fear of losing benefits, confusion with the multitude of plans and consumer inertia.
"Consumers who don't shop around and review their cover each year at renewal are literally throwing away hundreds of euro in potential savings as per the tables below."
Here Mr Goode sets out what you need to consider if you want to switch for better value cover.
Q: Will I be covered immediately or will I have to re-serve waiting periods?
A: Once you have already served your full waiting periods with your previous insurer(s) and you are switching to an equivalent plan which covers the same hospitals, you will have immediate cover.
Q: Will I have to pay these age-related loadings?
A: No. Once there is no break in your cover, then no additional loadings will apply. This assumes that you took out cover prior to April 30 this year to avoid the loadings in the first place.
Q: Can I return to my previous insurer in the future?
A: Yes, at each renewal, you can shop around to pick the best health insurer for your needs. If this means returning to your previous plan, this is no problem at all.
Q: Will I be excluded for any pre-existing conditions?
A: Once you are switching to an equivalent plan and you have already served all your waiting periods, then all pre-existing conditions will be covered under the new policy immediately subject to the terms and conditions of that policy.
Q: Do I have to have a medical or complete detailed application forms?
A: No. Switching is easy. Your application can be completed over the phone in a matter of minutes by providing the standard personal details. Just make sure you cancel the existing policy from the renewal date once the new cover is in place. One policy is expensive enough; you don't want two.
Q: Are there key questions I need to ask to make sure I'm making the right decision?
A: Yes. Firstly, decide on your budget and then ask the insurer to recommend the closest equivalent plan to what you have already that fits within this budget figure. Insist that you want them to look across all their plans irrespective of the plan name or who it's designed for. Secondly, whatever is recommended, ask the insurer again to confirm that this is their most competitive (equivalent) plan at that price. Finally, ask the insurer to explain exactly what you might be losing or gaining including any upgrade rules with this new plan. Remember, these calls are usually recorded for your added protection.
Q: Do I need to get independent advice on my health insurance prior to switching?
A: Not necessarily. Full information is available on all plans free-of-charge on the Health Insurance Authority website, www.hia.ie . However, if you have particular requirements from your cover, seek out a local advisor who specialises in this area. Even if there is a fee, the savings may be well worth it.
Q: So, how much can be saved by switching cover?
A: Table 1 shows the typical savings for one adult insured on a dated plan and hasn't reviewed their cover for some time. Please note that the suggested alternatives are not identical but they are representative of lower cost options that are now available on the market and are definitely worthy of consideration.
For families looking to generate much-needed savings, there are numerous offerings in the market right now for those with children under 18, Mr Goode said. Table 2 summarises the best offers for child cover across all insurers. Bear in mind, you can split your cover - put the adults on the plans highlighted in Table 1 and select one of the offers from Table 2 for the child cover.
"Once again, these alternative plans are not identical but they provide good overall hospital cover and should be considered before you renew your family policy," Mr Goode said.
For those families with young adult dependants, aged 21 to 25, the good news is that all insurers have discounted offers ranging from approximately 10pc to 50pc for these family members depending on their age.
This follows on from new legislation introduced from May 1 and should mean lower costs for the coming year, Mr Goode said. "If you have a dependent in this age bracket and you're being charged the full adult rate from renewal, shop around immediately for one of the special 'young adult rates' and bag those savings," he advised.
The message regarding health insurance is simple - think of it as you would car or home insurance and shop around each year for the best deals, he said.
If you're worried about changing, get professional advice. Most importantly, don't ignore that renewal notice - it could cost you dearly, Mr Goode said.