HEALTH insurers are resisting attempts by the Government to impose a daily charge on women for having babies.
The move to charge €75 per night at a maternity hospital will push up premiums again, they argue.
The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive also want to backdate payments to January 2012.
Aviva, Laya and GloHealth, who collectively represent around one million consumers, argue that it would be unfair as there is no charge for those women who have a baby in a public hospital and do not have health insurance.
The €75-a-night charge would apply to women with private medical insurance who have a baby in a public hospital. With the average stay of three nights, this could amount to an additional cost of €225 for insurers.
A woman who has a Caesarean- section could be in a maternity hospital for 10 days, experts said,. which would cost €750.
The €75-a-night charge is in addition to the normal private and semi-private room charges levied on insurers when a woman has a baby in a public hospital.
VHI Healthcare, which is state-owned, has agreed to pay the charge and to make backdated payments.
But its rivals are questioning the legality of the latest move to impose higher costs on health insurers, according to private medical insurance expert Dermot Goode of Healthinsurancesavings.ie.
Mr Goode said the HSE had written to all insurers in the middle of last year demanding funds for the in-patient charge. "If the department and the HSE succeed in this it will be factored into future hikes in premiums and will add to them," he said.
In the past two weeks all four health insurers have put up their premiums, with two of the insurers having imposed two premium hikes this year.
Some policies have gone up by €300 a year for a typical family.
One of the insurers explained that women who have no insurance and have a baby in a public hospital are not charged, because of what is known as the "maternity exclusion".
"The €75 public in-patient charge was never applied to private patients in public maternity hospitals. Payments were only made for designated bed charges."
But last year the HSE said it would start charging insurers the €75 a night fee, although no change had been implemented in the legislation to allow for this charge.
"The insurers would contend there is a very clear exemption in the legislation for maternity services and there is no specific private in-patient daily charge set out within any legislation," the health insurer said.
A spokesman for the Department of Health initially denied there had been any change in policy, insisting that everyone with insurance had been charged for maternity services since the 1990s.
But he later admitted that the department and the HSE were now seeking to impose the in-patient charge on insurance companies.
He confirmed that the charge does not apply to those to public patients – adding that that the in-patient charge applied where an insured woman is treated privately by a consultant in a public hospital.