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Saturday 19 October 2019

Your Money: Slash up to €3,000 off your health plan bill

You're likely to be overpaying if you've been on the same insurance for three or more years, writes Louise McBride

Louise McBride

Louise McBride

The 400,000 people renewing their private health insurance this month could be paying as much as €3,000 a year more for their private health insurance than they need to, Sunday Independent analysis has found. Most at risk of overpaying are those who have been on the same plan for three or more years - and those who automatically renew their cover without shopping around.

Private health insurance products are often confusing - so it can be hard to tell if you'll sacrifice important cover and benefits by switching to another plan. This is one of the reasons people can be reluctant to switch.

However, you could save thousands by moving to a plan that is very similar to the one you're on - and you might not even have to change insurer.

With this in mind, we asked top private health insurance experts - Dermot Goode of and Barbara Sheahan of - to suggest a number of plans that could be worth moving out of and to recommend similar, yet cheaper, alternatives. Between them, our experts identified eight switches that would slash health insurance bills.

Switch from Laya's Health Smart Family to Connect Choice: Save €3,115

Health Smart Family and Connect Choice are two plans offered by Laya. A family of four would save €3,115 a year by moving from Health Smart Family to Connect Choice.

"Both plans are very similar," said Goode. "They cover the same hospitals and have the same excesses [the first part of a claim you cover yourself]. Health Smart Family has slightly higher maternity cover."

Both plans have similar cover for routine GP expenses - however Connect Choice is slightly better as you get 75pc of your GP expenses back; but with Health Smart Family, you get 50pc of your GP expenses back.

"Health Smart Family is one of those plans which has been badly hit by price rises over the last four years."

Connect Choice costs a family of four €3,199 for the year; Health Smart Family costs the same family €6,314.

Goode's figures (and the other family savings quoted in this piece) are based on a family of two adults with two children under 18.

Switch from Irish Life Health's Business Plan Select to Health Plan 16.1: Save €1,587

A family of four would save €1,587 a year by moving from Irish Life Health's Business Plan Select to the same insurer's Health Plan 16.1.

"Both plans cover the same hospitals and both pay the same refunds on day-to-day medical expenses," said Goode. "However, Business Plan Select has an excess of €125 per claim for most treatment in a private hospital - but with Health Plan 16.1, the excess is €75 per claim."

Most insurers have co-payments on orthopaedic procedures, which means they won't foot the entire cost of such surgery - leaving you to cough up a few thousand euro. There is a difference in the shortfall you face for orthopaedic procedures under these plans. "Business Plan Select has a shortfall of €1,500 on certain orthopaedic procedures; with Health Plan 16.1, the shortfall is €2,000," said Goode.

A family of four would pay €3,955 a year for Health Plan 16.1; the same family would pay €5,542 for Business Plan Select.

Switch from VHI's Parents & Kids Options to PMI 3513: Save €1,336

A family of four would save €1,336 a year by switching from VHI's Parents & Kids Options plan to PMI 3513 - a corporate plan offered by the same insurer, according to Goode.

These plans are quite similar. They provide cover for a private room in a public hospital - or a semi-private room in a private hospital. However, with PMI 3513, you take on an excess of €100 per private hospital claim; there is no excess on VHI's Parents & Kids Options.

"PMI 3513 will give you a guaranteed refund on your routine medical expenses, such as GP bills," said Goode.

"However Parents & Kids Options doesn't. The cover for psychiatric treatment is better with Parents & Kids Options and there is slightly higher maternity cover. You get cover for 180 days in a private psychiatric hospital with Parents & Kids Options; but with PMI 3513, you get 100 days cover."

PMI 3513 costs a family of four €3,266 a year; Parents & Kids Options costs €4,602.

Switch from Irish Life Health's First Focus to Select Plus: Save €803

A family of four could save €803 a year by moving from First Focus to Select Plus. Both plans are offered by Irish Life Health.

"Select Plus and First Focus cover the exact same hospitals and inpatient cover [for overnight hospital stays] for everything other than maternity," said Sheahan.

"Select Plus offers a limited level of maternity cover. If you are on First Focus and do not need maternity cover, Select Plus is an excellent alternative."

Select Plus costs a family of four €2,194 a year; First Focus costs €2,997.

Switch from Glo Health's Better Plan to Better Plan Smart Cash: Save €742

Glo's Better Plan is a "very good mid-range hospital plan", according to Goode. A similar yet cheaper policy is Better Plan Smart Cash, a corporate plan offered by the same insurer.

"Both plans cover the same hospitals and have the same excess," said Goode. "Better Plan Smart Cash offers better refunds for routine medical expenses than the Better Plan."

Read More: The 60-second guide to... private health insurance jargon

A family of four pay €3,168 a year for Better Plan Smart Cash - or €3,910 for Better Plan.

Switch from Glo's Best Smart to Irish Life Health's Best Smart: Save €169

"Anyone insured with Glo Health should be reviewing their plan," said Sheahan. "As Glo Health was recently acquired by Irish Life Health, a number of Glo's plans have migrated over to Irish Life Health plans - where you can get the exact plan for a cheaper premium."

For example, a family of four would save €169 a year by switching from Glo Health's Best Smart plan to Irish Life's Best Smart plan. Glo's Best Smart plan costs a family of four €3,558 a year; Irish Life's version costs €3,388.60.

Switch from VHI's Health Plus Extra to Laya's Total Health Select: Save €1,153

VHI's Health Plus Extra plan, previously known as Plan B Options, is designed for older members. At €2,506 per adult, it's pricey cover. A couple would save €1,153 a year by switching from this plan to Laya's Total Health Select. (Children are unlikely to be on this plan).

"A huge number of older members have remained on Health Plus Extra for years without reviewing their cover," said Sheahan. "As this policy is one of the oldest on the market, it has been subject to every price increase along the way. The main reason for its high price tag is that it fully covers cardiac procedures in the high-tech hospitals and orthopaedic replacements in the private hospitals - without any excess. Should you wish to maintain full cover for these, Laya's Total Health Select, which costs €1,929.66 per adult, would be one of the best alternatives."

Total Health Select plan costs a couple €3,859 a year; Health Plus Extra costs €5,012

Switch from VHI's Healthplus Platinum (Plan E) to Laya's Empower Secure (No Excess): Save €2,759

VHI's Healthplus Platinum (Plan E) is an advanced plan targeted at older members. At €5,258 per adult, it's also very expensive.

A couple would save €2,759 a year by moving from Healthplus Platinum to Laya's Empower Secure (No Excess) recommended by Sheahan. Both offer similar cover for hospital stays. "However, the Laya policy offers far superior outpatient benefits - the ability to claim money back on consultant and GP visits," said Sheahan. "The only reduction in cover with the Laya plan is that the psychiatric cover reduces from 180 days to 100 days." VHI's Healthplus Platinum (Plan E) costs a couple €10,516 a year; €7,756 for Laya's Empower Secure (No Excess).

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