THE VHI is to increase the cost of a range of its corporate health plans by up to 15pc, the Irish Independent has learned.
The move is expected to be followed by similar hikes next month in other plans that are targeted at families and individuals, health insurance experts said. VHI plans already went up in price twice this year.
Plans aimed at families and individuals went up by between 45pc and 15pc in February and again by 2pc last month. Corporate plans went up in price also.
Now the state-owned insurer is starting a fresh round of price hikes by pushing up the cost of corporate plans by between 5pc and 15pc over the next three weeks -- citing inflation and increases in the cost of treating private patients in public hospitals.
One plan, that was reduced in price lately, is now going up by 29pc. The PMI 19 plan is set to rise by €200 per adult from this Thursday.
Corporate plans are aimed at companies which tend to sign up the entire workforce for private healthcare.
Healthcare providers do not market these plans at individuals but they tend to be cheaper and have better benefits.
Under law, these plans have to be made available to everyone if they ask for them.
Dermot Goode, of www.healthinsurancesavings.ie, said he expects the VHI to follow the corporate price hikes with increases of between 10pc and 15pc in plans specifically marketed at families and individuals, with the higher premiums applying from February next.
A spokeswoman for the VHI said that 20 corporate plans were going up by an average of 13.5pc, with the price rises taking effect from now until January 2. Around 20 PMI (Private Medical Insurance) corporate plans are affected. These are new corporate plans.
"Approximately 20 PMI plans will be impacted, most of which will see a 10pc or 15pc price increase," she said.
"The average price increase is 13.5pc and the price increases range from 5pc to approximately 29pc (one only), depending on the plan.
"Today's price increase is not related to the recent government Budget announcement regarding potential changes to the designation of private beds in public hospitals."
The health insurer insisted that fewer than 3pc of its customers were on the plans affected by the changes.
More hikes are expected next year after Health Minister James Reilly said he was planning to introduce a system whereby anyone with private health insurance would end up being charged for using a public hospital. This would mean even those who use an A&E ward in a public hospital would end up being charged.
Dr Reilly has insisted that health insurers can generate the savings to counteract these charges by reducing the payments to hospitals and to consultants for procedures.
The VHI has claimed this move could force it to hike its policies by up to 50pc.
Thousands more people are expected to give up health cover again this year, because of rising premiums.
In the first nine months of this year, 53,000 people dropped their cover, according to figures from the Health Insurance Authority.
Last week, Quinn Healthcare was forced to defend itself after it emerged that some of its plans were due to go up by 21pc from next year, rather than the 12pc average rise it said they were going up by.