Thousands are warned to upgrade after taking out 'useless' health insurance
Thousands of people who took out basic health insurance plans to avoid policy loadings have been warned that their cover is next to useless.
About 50,000 people opted for cheap, entry-level plans to get into the system and avoid having to pay penalties.
Age loadings were introduced four years ago, prompting 100,000 consumers to take up health insurance for the first time.
They were keen to avoid age loadings that now apply to anyone over the age of 34 taking out health cover for the first time.
A loading of 2pc of the premium applies for every year of age over 34 when first purchasing in-patient private health insurance after April 2015.
A continuing influx of young people are needed in the system to ensure everyone pays the same for the same plan, irrespective of their age. This is known as community rating.
But health insurance expert Dermot Goode said half of those who joined up four years ago took out the most basic cover possible, and these plans were now dated and offered very little cover.
Mr Goode, of TotalHealthCover.ie, said many of the basic plans did not cover private hospitals and did not even allow scans in every public hospital. The basic plans offer minimum cover for maternity services, are costly for child members, and do not provide any refunds on out-patient expenses.
"In reality, they are not health insurance at all, which is designed to fast-track your medical treatment and to give you access and full cover for all public and private hospitals."
He said consumers on these plans should now consider upgrading their cover to include access to all public and standard private hospitals.
"They should consider plans such as VHI One Plan 250 at €832, Irish Life Health Benefit Plan at €899 or Laya Essential Health 300 at €895, as these cover all standard private hospitals such as the Beacon Hospital, the Hermitage Clinic, Whitfield Clinic in Waterford, and Galway Clinic."
Mr Goode said families would benefit most by upgrading their cover because there were a number of special offers now on the market.
Laya is offering free cover for the second and subsequent child on three of its plans and it has announced a similar deal that will apply throughout April and May. This would be a minimum saving of €235 for a family with two children under 18, Mr Goode said.
VHI is continuing with its 25pc discount for children under 18 on all its One Plans. The One Plan 250 is now available for €180 per child.
Irish Life Health has been running continuous offers for children under 18 on its Select Plus and its new Benefit Plan. The cost per child on the latter plan is now €179 each, which Mr Goode said was good value.