Those with health cover are being asked to pay twice
Just when we thought the price of health insurance had begun to stabilise, premiums start rising again. VHI, Laya and Aviva Health have all announced premium rises.
And the predictions are that the rises will continue.
One of the main reasons for this renewed bout of rate rises is a sneaky little measure introduced by James Reilly (pictured) when Minister for Health. The change was brought in back in 2014 and was reported on by this journalist extensively then.
The effects of the new measure are only coming through now. It allows public hospitals to charge people who have private health insurance for a stay in hospital, whether they get private treatment or not. In extreme situations, someone who gets no more than a hospital trolley can end up being charged as a private patient.
The health insurer picks up the bill, but the cost feeds through to higher premiums, and is seen as directly responsible for the latest round of premium hikes.
When the change was introduced Dr Reilly said it would only raise an additional €30m. This sounded fair enough, given the financial pressures public hospitals are under.
However, it has now transpired that the yield from the new private charges shot up by €150m last year.
This is despite a fall in the numbers of private patients treated in public hospitals.
Of course the Exchequer should not be subsidising the cost of treating private patients. But nor should those who have health insurance have to pay on the double. And that is exactly what happens if your insurer is charged when you only get public treatment in a public hospital.
For someone without a medical card, the overnight cost to the insurer is €75, up to a limit of €750.
Since January 2014, hospitals can charge €813 a night for a public ward.
If hospitals want to charge insurers they have to get you to sign a waiver form, waiving you right to be treated as a public patient. The Department of Health insists people are only asked if they have private insurance if they first say they want to be treated as a private patient.
The problem with this is that people coming into an A&E are likely to be confused and distressed. That is not a good time to be asked if they want to sign a form asking them to waive their right to public care.
Insurers claim that people coming into hospitals are being pressurised to sign these waiver forms. Gardai have complained about this.
The bottom line is that you should think hard before signing a waiver form. Only sign it if you are guaranteed to get a semi-private or private room. Ring your insurer before signing, if in doubt.
Sunday Indo Business