Shop around for health cover to resuscitate your budget
Price hikes and the reduction in tax relief should be a wake-up call for those who have still failed to review their health cover plans, writes Charlie Weston
Many believe they have the best value cover but this may not be the case
IT is a tough time of the year for hard-pressed consumers of private health insurance. Any new year resolutions to eliminate unnecessary costs will be well tested when it comes to health insurance, as consumers are still reeling from price hikes.
Around 500,000 members are due to renew their cover in the coming weeks.
They need to brace themselves for more bad news, on the back of successive price increases, compounded by the Government's decision to reduce the tax relief in the last budget.
However, the four health insurers – Vhi, Laya, Aviva and GloHealth – have reacted by launching a number of offers to try and minimise the impact.
If there was ever a wake-up call to consumers to shop around, this is it, according to Dermot Goode, general manager of Cornmarket Healthcare Division and www.healthinsurancesavings.ie
Failure to do this could see you locked into an overly expensive health plan for a further 12 months, he said.
Looking at a young family of two adults and two children (aged 2 and 8), all insurers have attractive offers in place.
On the Laya Healthcare Essential Connect Family plan, children and students (up to age 20) can be insured for €150 each, Mr Goode pointed out.
The adult cost on this plan is €800, which brings the total family cost to €1,900 (plus 3pc if you pay by direct debit).
There is a €300 policy excess on this plan for admissions to private hospitals and the cover in the three hi-tech hospitals is limited (Blackrock Clinic, Mater Private and Beacon).
Vhi Healthcare is offering half-price cover for all children under 18 on four of its plans, One Plan Family, Nurses Plan Select, Teachers' Plan Select and the Parent & Kids Excess.
Normally costing over €250 per child, these are now available at €131 per child.
"We recommend the latter plan, Parent & Kids Excess, as the best option of these four.
"For the adults, we suggest they consider the VHI Company Plan, costing €943 per adult."
This plan has a €75 excess on all admissions to private hospitals, and the hi-tech cover for the likes of Blackrock Clinic and Mater Private is limited to certain cardiac procedures only.
The cost of this family healthcare package is €2,148.
Aviva Health is offering children aged between five and 17 cover on its Family Focus plan from €150 each.
This plan covers most public and private hospitals but also gives a refund on three GP visits.
For the two-year-old child, our family should look at the Level 2 Family Health plan at €233.
"For the adults, we're suggesting they consider the Health Value plan at €850 each.
"This covers both public and private hospitals but there is a €125 excess on the first five nights of any admission to a private hospital," Mr Goode said.
This family package will cost €2,083 for the year.
GloHealth continues to offer free cover for all children under three on its Better Plan or higher which is very attractive (as the normal cost is €260 per child), Mr Goode said.
The company has enhanced this to give half-price cover on the same plans for all three-year-olds.
In addition to this, they are giving one month free on all plans for new members joining up to January 31 this year.
This reduces the adult cost on the Better Plan to €907.50 each.
This plan covers all public and private hospitals and has a €50 day-case excess and €100 overnight excess on all private hospital admissions.
This family package will cost €2,053 (the two-year-old gets free cover on this plan).
For those consumers who have not reviewed their cover in the last three years, or where the entire family is insured on the same level of cover, these alternative plans could generate significant savings, the health insurancesavings.ie expert said.
Many members simply opt for the same plan as their parents, but they could be selecting some of the older and therefore more expensive plans on the market.
By contacting their insurer and potentially splitting their cover for the family, they could reduce their costs substantially.
Many consumers have opted for corporate plans which combine good hospital cover with cover for routine medical expenses.
Many mistakenly believe that they have the best value cover available but this may not always be the case.
"We are recommending that those insured on the Aviva Business Plans, VHI Company Plans and Laya Company Care plans review their policies again across all four insurers as many of these plans have been 'replaced' by lower-cost equivalents in the last 12 months," Mr Goode said.
All prices quoted are net of tax relief at source and are correct as of 1/1/14 as per www.hia.ie (Health Insurance Authority). However, prices and benefits are subject to change and consumers should confirm all details with the insurer in question.
Case study: The O'Sullivan family
SWITCHING health cover proved to be a winner for the O'Sullivan family. Joanne O'Sullivan, a part-time administrator with Dublin City Council and a homemaker, reckons the family pocketed €500 by moving from Aviva to GloHealth, the newest player in the market.
She and her husband Ronan, an electrical contractor, have three children – Jack (9), Isabel (6) and Lauren (5).
"I shopped around. I went online and looked at a number of different healthcare providers and checked out which was the best value," Ms O'Sullivan said.
"The total saving amounted to about €500 when I added everything up," she added.
The family lives in Artane in Dublin and with five of them covered by health insurance, making the need to find savings a priority.
The fact that there is a family excess on the Better plan, as opposed to an excess for each individual on the policy, also helped her opt for GloHealth. An excess is an amount of the claim you have to pay before the insurer will cover the cost.
She was also attracted to the add-ons on the policy.
The family took up the offer to get €30 off the cost of sports memberships for the children, and Ms O'Sullivan has a back problem and availed of the option to get money off the cost of going to a chiropractor.
Ms O'Sullivan says she is very focused on not spending more than is necessary.
"I generally look for value. You have to when you have a family of five."