Last-minute rush for health cover will leave many with wrong plan
People considering taking out health insurance before new penalties kick in have been warned not to leave it until the last day.
A last-minute rush means insurers will be too busy to cope, and people may not be able to get through, experts said.
The late-entry levies apply from next Thursday and will mean a 2pc loading will apply to the cost of health insurance premium for every year someone is over the age of 35, if they are taking out cover for the first time.
Health insurance expert Dermot Goode warned people that they will miss the deadline if they do not act quickly.
As many as 100,000 people could take out cover ahead of the deadline, although it is likely the numbers will be lower.
Mr Goode said: "The insurers are predicting an 'avalanche' of enquiries in the next nine days.
He said it was part of the Irish psyche to leave it until the last minute to put cover in place, but there will be no extension of the deadline.
"Don't leave it to the last minute and risk waiting an age to get through to the insurers or worse still, rushing your decision and opting for the wrong plan. Inquire now, consider all your options and get in before that deadline."
Mr Goode said that if people want to avoid the age loadings only, they should look at one of the new entry-level plans only.
They should then upgrade their cover at some time into the future, but upgrade waiting periods will apply.
But he warned: "Remember, these entry level plans are not quality health insurance."
People who want quality cover will have to pay from €850 a year.
The excesses - the amount you have to pay yourself before the insurer picks up the rest - on lower level plans will mean you won't be able to afford private hospital cover even though you're covered for them.
Head of health insurance at Cornmarket Group, Dermot Wells, warned that there was a real danger people will focus too much on the cost of health insurance, and ignore the quality of the cover.
"There is a real danger that people focus too much on the premium and the avoidance of the loading as opposed to ensuring they have sufficient health cover in place."
He said the new "yellow pack" plans serve a purpose for those purely seeking to beat the loading but they are not proper health plans, with very restricted public hospital access and no private hospital access.
"People on these plans will not be in a position to control where they obtain their treatment or what consultant they can use," Mr Wells added.
Health insurance experts were sceptical about concerns that health insurance premiums will shoot up next year, once thousands of new customers are locked into the system.
Mr Goode said VHI had not increased prices this year, while Laya had cut some premium rates and frozen others. More people coming into the system should mean prices remain muted.
"We will have increases of between 3pc and 5pc next year, but there should not be any price-rise shocks.
"We should go back to the days of 3pc to 5pc rises to account for medical inflation," he said. But the entry-level plans, that cost around €400, may become more expensive, he said.