Don't be afraid to shop around, because changing your provider or switching your plan can save you up to €713, writes Charlie Weston
CLOSE to a million people are due to renew their health insurance before March.
It is a huge expense for most families. Prices on some plans may have been reduced by the Vhi, Laya Healthcare and Irish Life Health, but previous hikes are still feeding through the system, meaning that many people will face higher premiums when they come to renew.
But big savings can be made by switching your provider. As with any insurance policy, there are potential benefits for everyone by shopping around.
In some cases, you can still get a better deal by changing to a different plan from your existing insurer.
However, Dermot Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie recommends that you check the market to make sure that you are getting the best deal at all times.
With 335 different plans out there, the market is confusing, but there are also lots of plans available to ensure you can better value.
Older members tend to make the biggest savings as they are likely to be insured on the most dated plans and are most fearful of change, Mr Goode says.
Families too can bag big savings by seeking out discounted deals.
"The message is simple: think of health insurance as you would a car or home insurance policy. This means you should check all your options before renewing each year," Mr Goode said.
He advised against auto-renewing every year without checking out options in the market.
You should switch:
• If you have been on the same plan for three years or more.
• If you are afraid to change because of misguided loyalty.
• If you have all the family on the same plan.
• If you do not have a small excess on your plan. The excess is an amount you have to pay before the insurer pays the rest.
Mr Goode says people should consider changing their health plan if they have never looked at a corporate plan, and if they are not getting refunds on out-patient expenses, with no excess to pay first.
Families need to consider plans with discounted rates for children under 18, and discounted young adult rates for dependants aged 18-25.
Switching is easy
Legislation on health insurance is very protective of consumers. You are entitled to join any plan regardless of the name of the scheme.
When you switch you must be given full credit for time spent with your previous insurer. This means that if you have served all your waiting periods, they do not have to be served again.
If you are switching to an equivalent plan, and you have served all your waiting periods, you will be on cover immediately on joining. All they can ask you for is details of your existing cover and how long you have been previously insured.
You cannot be restricted for any pre-existing conditions or pending medical treatment.
And you will not be charged age loadings unless you are over 34 and joining for the first time. There will be no break in your cover on switching.
Mr Goode says the only thing to watch for is the upgrade rule, which applies equally across all providers.
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 a period of two years for any existing conditions. This means you will still be covered based on your previous plan, which Mr Goode says is fair and reasonable.
Switcher questions you should ask:
Mr Goode recommends that you engage with the insurers by phone after you have done a little research first.
If you ask for a specific plan by name, they must discuss this with you and compare it to your existing plan. If you are happy with the answer, then switch.
Otherwise, the following rules of engagement should help:
• Ask for the nearest equivalent plan to the one you have already.
• Advise the insurer that you don't mind taking on a small excess to reduce the cost.
• Have them check all their plans, especially their best corporate plans.
• Stay on the phone and have them explain exactly how any suggested alternative plan compares to your existing cover, ie, what are you losing and gaining.
• Disclose everything to them in terms of existing conditions and likely treatment to get specific answers to all your queries.
• Ignore any items that are on the plan which may not apply to you such as maternity, psychiatric, convalescence etc. They must be included on all plans by law.
• If you are happy that the new plan meets your requirements, then switch and save.
Young families can make excellent savings, Mr Goode says.
Our table (see far right) shows the potential savings for a family of two adults and two children under 18 by updating their cover for the adults and opting for one of the free-cover offers now available in the market for young children.
Older members stand to make the biggest savings.
For example, those insured on the Vhi Health Plus Extra (old Plan B Options) could save €460 each by switching to Health Plus Access, which is the old Plan B.
By taking on a small excess of €75 per claim, they could switch to the Vhi Health Plus Excess, which will increase their overall savings to €710 per adult.
The same applies to Laya members on the likes of Essential Plus or Total Health Select.
By switching to plans like Health Secure Plus, adults could save up to €713 each and still have excellent cover in place.
Some Irish Life members are still insured on the likes of Level 2 Hospital Excess or Family Health schemes. By switching to their excellent Health Plan 16.1 scheme, they could save around €695 for equivalent cover.
The list (below) shows details of what Mr Goode says are excellent mid-range corporate plans across all three health insurers - which include cover for a private room in private hospitals (subject to excess) and refunds on out-patient expenses with no excess to pay - which are available to all consumers.
- Vhi Healthcare: PMI 01 10 at €1,588 per adult
- Laya Healthcare: Care Select at €1,531 per adult
- Irish Life Health: 4D Health 4 at €1,500 per adult
(Note that all plans listed are for illustrative purposes only. They are not like-for-like and product differentials will apply. Consumers must refer to the insurers' policy terms and conditions and be certain that any new plan meets their specific requirements prior to switching. If in doubt, seek expert advice).
Mr Goode says the message is simple: don't be afraid to change, and if you don't feel up to the task, have a trusted family member or friend undertake this for you.
How to switch health insurance
Find out the name of your current plan and how much your renewal premium is. Decide what your budget is this year.
Visit the Health Information Authority’s website, hia.ie, and use its comparison facility to compare this plan with others on the market, side by side.
Talk to your insurer or a broker. Ask them: “What is your very best plan for my budget? And please include all your corporate plans.” If you are considering upgrading or downgrading your plan, it will be well worth talking to them about this, too. They could also advise on any discounts that might be available, any premium reductions possible by, for example, increasing your excess, or alternative plans that may give you more benefits for the same premium.