Time for a health insurance check-up
Around one million people are due to renew their cover in the next three months - Charlie Weston shows you how to make savings
This is the peak time for health-insurance renewals. Nearly 400,000 customers are due to renew this month and almost one million are renewing by the end of March. The good news is that the market has stabilised compared with previous years and there are excellent deals available from all three insurers to suit all consumer budgets.
But how do I know if I'm over-insured or paying too much?
You are paying too much if you have been on the same plan for three years or more. Another sign you are over-paying is if you have all the family on the same plan.
Not being on a corporate plan with guaranteed refunds on out-patient expenses could be a sign you are paying too much, as is a failure to consider taking on a small excess when you make a private hospital claim.
Not being aware of any of the discounted offers for children under 18, and paying the full adult rate for dependants aged between 18 and 24 are other signs of paying too much. And you are likely to be over-paying if your annual premium is more than €1,800 per adult for your cover.
Dermot Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie warns consumers not to fall into the "auto-renewal" trap where they allow dated cover to simply roll-over for another year without checking out all the options.
"Don't forget you have 14 days after your renewal date as well to amend or even cancel your cover, known as a cooling-off period," he says.
People should not be afraid to switch insurer. Consumers are fully protected by the healthcare legislation when it comes to switching.
This means insurers must take you on regardless of your medical history or pending surgeries.
And you get full credit for time served with previous insurers. In other words, if you have already served your pre-existing waiting periods, these do not have to be re-served.
If you have health insurance already, no new age loadings will apply, Mr Goode says.
"The only questions the insurer will ask are: what's the name of your current plan and how long have you had this cover without a break. If you're happy with the price and benefits on the new plan, then switch as you would car or home insurance."
So what are the best deals for families? Mr Goode says Vhi is offering a 25pc discount on 15 plans, including all its One Plan schemes, its Nurses and Teachers Plan Select and its Parent and Kids Excess plan.
This applies to children under the 18.
Irish Life Health continues to offer what Mr Goode said was excellent value on its Nurture Plan at €160 per child and its Select Plus scheme at €180 each.
The Better Active also offers what he said was good hospital cover at €239 per child.
Laya has introduced a free cover offer on three plans, Essential Health 300, Flex 125 Explore and their Essential Connect Family.
If you put both children on the Essential Health 300 scheme, you will save €235 for the second child, he says.
What are the best value semi-private corporate plans right now? For those who want quality cover including guaranteed refunds on out-patient expenses with no excess to pay first, the table above includes a sample of the best plans available right now.
What are the best corporate plans for private accommodation in private hospitals?
More consumers want access to a private room in private hospitals (if available) including guaranteed refunds on their out-patient expenses with no excess to pay first. In the past, these plans could cost up to €3,000 per adult, but with increased competition in the market, there are excellent options now available at a fraction of this cost as the second table above shows.
There is no issue splitting cover. This involves placing the adults on one of these private room plans and switching the children to one of the special deals or a semi-private corporate plan.
How to switch... health insurance
STEP 1 Find out what the name of your current plan is and how much your renewal premium is (e.g. Vhi Family Plan Level 1; Laya Flex 125 Explore). Decide what your budget is this year.
STEP 2 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.
STEP 3 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.
STEP 4 Alternatively, ring your health insurer and ask for the closest equivalent plan to the one you are on at the moment. Stress you want them to consider all plans, including corporate options.
Potential savings: €300
Total time: One hour