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Thursday 18 January 2018

Two million now have health cover as number rises

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

THERE was an increase in the number of people taking out health insurance last year, with fewer leaving the market.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said an extra 7,400 people took out a policy in the last three months of last year.

An extra 1,000 people had taken out a policy in the previous quarter. There are now 2.025 million people with private health cover.

Close to 24,000 dropped their health cover last year, compared with almost 50,000 people the previous year.

Mr Varadkar said: "The changes are small but significant. One of my key priorities for 2015 is making health insurance more affordable so that the number of people covered continues to increase. It is part of the transition to universal coverage."

Last November the minister announced a range of measures at the end of last year aimed at making premiums more affordable.

The measures allow insurers to offer premium discounts of up to 50pc up to age 25 - this previously stopped at 21.

Mr Varadkar also reduced the stamp duty levied on companies to fund risk equalisation for basic policies by 20pc and froze it for more advanced products.

He said at the time he hoped insurers would respond with low, or no, premium rises.

Soon after these changes were announced, Laya, the second-largest health insurer in the market, bucked the trend of ever-rising premiums.

Both VHI and Laya have responded to the minister's call by cutting the rates on some premiums and freezing the prices on others.

VHI Healthcare is to cut the prices on seven popular plans by around 3pc.

Experts said it was the first time in living memory that the VHI had cut prices, with premiums on other plans frozen.

The reductions will take effect from March 1.

Laya Healthcare, which has just been taken over by international insurer AIG, cut prices on 12 of its plans before Christmas. It promised to freeze prices on other plans.

Price cutting is in stark contrast to multiple rises in premiums in the past few years.

Both Aviva and GloHealth have announced premium increases in the last two months.

The numbers with health cover are expected to be further boosted this year when lifetime community rating comes in on May 1.

Lifetime community rating will see people loaded with a premium if they enter the market after the age of 35.

Irish Independent

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