Families opt for cheaper health cover to cut costs
Families have moved to cheaper and better-value health insurance in response to the rising cost of cover.
New figures from the Health Insurance Authority (HIA) show that the average premium was €1,173 for an adult last year.
This is down from the average of €1,200 paid in the previous year.
Some 2.12 million people now have health insurance, up 4,000 since last December, the HIA has said.
The move by families to seek better value, with others downgrading their cover, comes despite ongoing premium increases.
VHI pushed up the cost of more than 50 plans on May 1, with rises of between 1pc and 7pc, the HIA said.
Laya Healthcare increased premiums on Essential Connect Family and ended a special offer on children's premiums.
GloHealth raised the cost of 37 plans at the start of this month, while Aviva increased the cost of nine of its plans this month.
These rises come after increases last December, and a string of other hikes last year.
Health insurance broker Dermot Goode, of TotalHealthCover.ie, said the decrease in the average spent on premiums indicates that consumers are becoming more proactive in terms of digging out the best deals and reviewing their cover each year.
"However, four out of five consumers are still insured on the wrong plans and are paying too much.
"Reviewing your cover every two and three years is not enough - you must do this annually to keep pace with all the changes and bag the best deals as you would car or home cover."
There are around 420 different plans from the four insurers.
Chief executive of the HIA Don Gallagher said the market was dynamic, with a range of polices and price ranges.
"There is value to be had, but consumers need to actively consider what cover they want and be prepared to switch insurers to get cover at the right price."
Mr Gallagher added that if consumers have not looked at their health insurance plan in the last two to three years, they may not be getting the best value available in the market for the level of cover they want.
He said there was a recovery in the health insurance market in terms of the numbers insured.
The four insurers got a boost this time last year when close to 100,000 people took out cover for the first time.
This was to avoid penalties imposed on those over the age of 34 who take out cover for the first time as part of lifetime community rating.
Mr Goode said that once the numbers who took out cover to avoid the penalties is stripped out, the market has largely remained stagnant.
"We are still a long way off the 2.3 million insured in 2008," he said.
Total health insurance premiums paid in 2015, gross of tax relief, amounted to €2.4bn, which was an increase of 0.5pc from 2014.
Based on population estimates, around 45.9pc of the population held private health insurance at the end of March 2016.
At its peak in 2008, close to 51pc of the population held private health insurance.