Number with health cover up by 150,000 in two years

An extra 150,000 people took out health insurance in the past two years. (Stock picture)

Charlie Weston

There has been a surge in the number of people with private health insurance.

The jump has been put down to the economic recovery and the introduction two years ago this week of late-entry penalties.

An extra 150,000 people took out health insurance in the past two years, says the Health Insurance Authority (HIA), the regulator. More than two million people now have cover.

The largest increase was in the number of people in their 40s taking out policies in the last two years.

Almost 33,000 people between the ages of 40 and 49 joined a scheme since the start of 2015, the HIA said.

They were prompted to take out cover to avoid levies that were imposed in May two years ago.

Known as lifetime community rating, the new system means anyone over the age of 34 who joined after May 2015 has had a loading imposed on their health insurance premium.

The loading works out at 2pc of the premium cost for every year the person is over the age of 34, if they have not had cover before. The largest increase in those taking out insurance was in the under 50 age category.

This was the group targeted for lifetime community rating. A rise of 104,000 people under the age of 50 was recorded in the past two years, said the HIA.

However, despite the surge in the totals with cover, the overall number with health insurance is below the peak reached in 2008.

Back then there were just short of 2.3m people with private health insurance.

The total is 265,000 less today, according to the HIA figures.

Chief executive of the HIA Don Gallagher said the figures showed the health insurance market was improving.

He said the rise in the numbers of younger people would help make the system more sustainable.

Health insurance expert Dermot Goode said the market is recovering, which is positive, but it is a very slow recovery.

"We are still a long way off the market high of 2.3 million members in 2008. At the current pace of growth, it will take years for us to hit this level again," Mr Goode, of, said.