Sunday 25 February 2018

VHI plans to heavily restrict hospital choice for patients

Policies desig premium hikes

Charlie Weston Personal Finance Editor

HEALTH insurer VHI is planning to launch a range of new schemes that will heavily restrict the hospitals that people can be treated in.

These plans will swing in if Health Minister James Reilly goes ahead with his proposals to charge everyone with health cover for using a public hospital.

The new plans would be a way to avoid hikes of up to 30pc in premiums.

But the policies would see those who take them out having fewer choices about the number of public and private hospitals they can use.

It came as VHI announced that it made a profit of €54m last year.

Under the new plans, each geographical area would be allowed a small number of both public and private hospitals to be covered.

This would mean that in Dublin, a person may be covered for treatment at Beaumont Hospital but not at St James's Hospital, with fewer private hospitals covered.

In rural areas, people would have to travel further to find a hospital covered by their plan.

VHI boss John O'Dwyer said it was ready to roll out the new schemes if the Government goes ahead with moves to impose huge charges on insurers when their customers use public hospitals.

VHI and its four rival health insurers have claimed that moves by Dr Reilly to bring in new charges for using public hospitals will destabilise the medical- insurance market.

The Government plans to charge private patients the full cost of using public-hospital beds. This will see premiums rise by 30pc by the end of the year, the insurers have insisted.

This could see the average family hit with an additional €750 in premiums and comes on top of two price hikes from the insurers in the past six months.

At the moment, a small number of beds in public hospitals are designated for private use, and insurers pay the full cost of using these beds. When those with insurance get a bed outside this allocation, a charge of €75 applies.

The minister's move would mean private patients will be levied a charge of €1,122 a night instead for a room in 25 public hospitals.

The VHI said charging insurers more than €1,000 when members are treated in a public bed in a public hospital was double taxation.

The average adult premium has already gone up by 45pc to €1,000 in the last four years across the market, according to Health Insurance Authority data.

Dr Reilly has insisted that insurers can avoid threatened hikes in premiums of up to 30pc by cutting costs further.

But Mr O'Dwyer said his company was obsessed with cost containment. The biggest cost the company has is the charge for the use of beds in public hospitals, but this price is controlled by the Department of Health.

Irish Independent

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