Query: I've been considering cancelling my private health insurance since the Government takeover of private hospitals during the Covid-19 crisis - even if this takeover comes to an end in June. Would this be a good idea? I'm 50 years old and in good health. I have had private health insurance for the last 10 years. If I cancel my health insurance now and decide to rejoin it once the crisis passes, would I face an age loading? Gemma, Co Kildare
Answer: My advice is not to cancel your health insurance. Although there will certainly be a reduction in private treatments during the crisis, treatment for conditions that are considered by a medical consultant to be critical and/or time-dependent will still be happening.
Once we are through this crisis, routine elective medical treatment will recommence.
Each provider has announced that they will be offering rebates to customers. The rebates being offered differ with each provider and vary depending on the plan you have. VHI Healthcare members will see an average premium waiver of 50pc. The exact amount will vary depending on your plan but it will be somewhere between 45pc and 60pc.
Laya Healthcare customers will receive €195 each from Laya - and this rebate will be paid over three months. If you have any children on Laya policies, the rebate in respect of their cover is €60 per child.
Irish Life Health members will receive between 36pc and 60pc of their monthly premium back if the plan includes private hospital cover - or between 17pc and 21pc if the plan includes public hospitals only.
Each of the three providers will automatically apply the rebates, so there's no need for you to request it from your insurer. The insurers are also willing to discuss payment options with members who may not be able to meet premiums due to financial hardship.
If you were to cancel your policy for more than 13 weeks and wanted to rejoin after that, you would have a loading applied to your plan and you could also face lengthy waiting periods. You would get credit for the 10 years you had cover - but this would still leave you with a shortfall as lifetime community rating loadings commence from the age of 35 and so you would still face a significant loading.
The main concern is the huge number of pending claims facing hospitals over the coming months. There will be a backlog of procedures waiting to happen and, if anything, I think it will be more important to have health insurance over the coming months than prior to Covid-19 - because of the demand for procedures.
Remember, demand for treatment and claims has not stopped - it has just been pushed out until the crisis is over.
Query: I want to get a hip replacement once the Covid-19 crisis passes. I currently have one of the cheaper Irish Life Health plans (Select), which covers public hospitals only and has no cover for hip replacement surgery. I want to upgrade to a better plan which will cover me for a hip replacement. Which plans would you recommend? Sarah, West Dublin
Answer: Unfortunately, if you were to upgrade to a higher plan that would cover a hip replacement in a private hospital you would have to serve a two-year 'upgrade waiting period'. This waiting period applies as it is an existing medical condition. There are a number of public hospitals on your current plan that would include cover for a hip replacement - and you will find this information in your membership handbook. There is another Irish Life Health plan called 'Select Starter' which has the same hospital cover and offers savings of €118.50 over the year - it would be worth moving to this plan if trying to reduce your costs without jeopardising your cover.
Query: Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, I suffered from depression and anxiety and was attending a counsellor on a biweekly basis. This has gotten worse since the lockdown. I have private health insurance - are there any supports available to help people struggling with mental health problems during this time? Joe, Co Cavan
Answer: There are a lot of people struggling with their mental health during this time. There are a number of supports available from each health insurance provider.
Irish Life Health offers an employee assistance programme called 'Healthy Minds' which enables you to speak to qualified counsellors. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week - and the number to call is 1850 718 888. The insurer also has a number of useful articles at irishlifehealth.ie/wellness.
Laya Healthcare offers a 'Mental Wellbeing Support Programme' on a number of its plans.
Earlier this month, VHI Healthcare launched its 'Well at Home' service - which was developed specifically to meet the needs of those who have been advised to 'cocoon' during the current public health crisis. Well at Home offers customers a personalised general wellbeing check-up - and a range of clinical supports which customers can access from the comfort of their own home. The service also aims to address anxiety and other mental health issues facing people during the current crisis and VHI is making a mental health support line available as part of this service.
International health cover
Query: My son was due to travel to Australia last March - as he was planning to work in Australia for a year and then return home. Those plans were put on hold due to the Covid-19 lockdown. My son has been insured with VHI since he was born - and to ensure continuity of health cover for his planned stint in Australia (and for when he returns home from Australia), he had bought VHI's International plan. That plan kicked in in late March (to coincide with the date my son had been due to travel). Now it's unclear if my son will be able to travel to Australia at all. What should he do about his private health insurance now? Sheila, Co Louth
VHI International now offers cover for 179 days in Ireland so your son will have inpatient cover and cover for day-to-day expenses in Ireland. It will also allow you to move to a domestic health insurance plan and move on to an international plan when he leaves Ireland.
Your waiting periods will not be affected moving from an international VHI plan to a domestic health insurance plan.
Please note, if the Department of Foreign Affairs website (dfa.ie) has a 'do not travel' notice for Australia, private health insurance cover will not be provided unless it is travel for work which is considered 'essential travel'.