'Health insurers still picking young and healthy': HIA
Health insurers are continuing to cherry-pick younger and healthier subscribers by using a complicated web of price plans.
They are also making cheaper plans less attractive to older people, a new report has revealed.
In the last year, these marketing ploys have included maintaining a large number of plans which offer similar benefits but have significant differences in price, according to the Health Insurance Authority (HIA), which regulates the industry.
The cheaper plans are designed to be sold to lower-risk groups who are less likely to make a claim, the watchdog said in a report for the Department of Health.
It also said all the insurance companies, with the exception of Laya Healthcare, have products which have reduced orthopaedic benefits in private hospitals. It means that these plans are less attractive to older subscribers who are increasingly likely to need surgery such as a hip or knee operation.
This undermines community rating where everyone regardless of age should be charged the same price for the same level of cover.
The report said the numbers of people who are insured went up by 4.1pc between July 2015 and July 2016.
It blamed the increased cost of claims for insured patients treated in public hospitals for contributing to rising prices.
The number of inpatient plans on sale in the market by the four health insurers has fallen by 52 since December, but there are still 352 on the market, leading to confusion for the public.
Asked why the watchdog did not take action against companies for cherry-picking, a spokesman said one of the ways in which health insurers compete is by targeting different demographic groups of consumers with insurance plans at different levels of cover.
"However, consumers have entitlements to switch their health insurance plan or provider without penalty and avail of any insurance plan available on the market," he said.
"One of the authority's roles is to provide consumers with information and, armed with information on available insurance plans and pricing, consumers can make better decisions about what insurance plans meet their requirements and provide value for money.
"The authority's website includes information on every plan available on the market and a comparison tool which allows consumers to compare the insurance plans.
"This will allow them to make informed choices when they are renewing health insurance policies."