Varadkar rushes to get health insurance before deadline
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has revealed he had no private health insurance until last week - after letting his cover lapse over the years.
Mr Varadkar (36) signed up as a private health insurance subscriber to beat the April 30 deadline after which anyone over 35, who joins up for the first time, will face a higher levy on all policies.
The trained GP told the Irish Independent: "Like a lot of people in their 30s, I had let my health insurance lapse. So I acted for two reasons. As Minister for Health I wanted to take a lead. I also wanted to avoid the levy."
If he had wanted to see a specialist or have a routine operation as a public patient he would have faced a long queue unless he was prepared to pay the full out-of -pocket price.
Mr Varadkar said: "I can honestly say that I feel a lot better having taken out health insurance again, and would encourage others to do the same if they haven't done so already. There are around two weeks before the deadline and loads of great offers out there now."
He did not say which company he joined, although the Department of Health is the effective owner of VHI. He confirmed: "I took out a policy that covers all public and private hospitals with a small excess. It also gives me something back on GP, dental and out-patient visits. I think it's good value overall and costs about the same as my car insurance."
Mr Varadkar, whose father is a retired GP, added: "As someone who is fortunate to be in good health, I never used my health insurance in the past but I think it's important that I should pay into the system because I will probably need to use it when I am older.
"Anyone who takes out health insurance in their 20s or 30s is helping to keep premiums down for people who are old or sick, and will benefit in turn when they get older or sick."
All insurers are reporting a rise in enquiries since the deadline was announced.
A spokeswoman for Laya healthcare said: "We have seen a substantial increase in the number of enquiries from the public in relation to taking out private health insurance, particularly those who are new to market. In March alone, we had a three-fold increase in the number of new-to-market calls compared to the same month last year."
The insurer reported over the same period the number of calls from those in their 30s and 40s had more than doubled.
A spokesman for VHI said: "We are experiencing a lot of web activity, a lot of calls and people are buying - many for the first time.
Aviva also recorded a "significant uplift" in the activity online and through its call centre. "We have recruited extra call centre advisers," the spokesman added.