Thousands more families ditching health insurance
THE number of people with health insurance is on course to drop to its lowest level in more than a decade.
More families with children dumping their cover means that the number covered by private health policies is now predicted to fall below two million by the end of the year.
The prediction came after new figures revealed that 41,000 people ditched their cover in the year to June.
The number with health insurance is down to 2.017 million people, new figures from the Health Insurance Authority show.
A total of 280,000 people have exited the market since the numbers insured peaked in 2008. It is close to 11 years since the number with health cover was below two million. Most of those giving up health insurance are in their 30s and 40s, and have young children.
Health insurance expert Dermot Goode said there was a clear trend of large numbers opting out of the market because of pressure on household budgets and surging premiums.
"In the past six years close to 300,000 people have fallen away, and most of those are young, the very ones you need to support community rating," Mr Goode, of TotalHealthCover.ie, said.
Community rating is the official policy that means that everyone pays the same for the same level of cover, irrespective of the state of their health and their age. But large numbers of young people leaving the market have put a huge strain on community rating.
Householders have suffered from years of premium price spirals. The cost of private medical insurance has doubled in the last six years, with an average family now having to shell out at least €2,500 a year.
From May 1, people over the age of 35 who buy health insurance for the first time are to have a loading imposed on their premiums - in a move called lifetime community rating.
And those who have left the market will only get credit for those years they had a policy.
However, there will be a grace period of eight months, to next May, to allow all new entrants and those returning to the insurance market to now join without any penalties.
The new lifetime community rating rules were unlikely to reverse the exodus from the market unless the Government speeds up its plans to also introduce discounts for those in their 20s who take out cover, Mr Goode said.
At the moment a person who reaches 21 no longer qualifies for a student discount, which means their premium will more than double from a student rate of €400 when they reach that age.
Discounts should apply for those up to the age of 29, and should be introduced from the start of next year, Mr Goode said.