Time to give your policy a check-up
There is some good news on the horizon for hard-pressed families with health insurers launching a raft of new offers, writes Charlie Weston
THE health insurance market continues to be challenging and complex for consumers.
The upward pressure on rates continues unabated, with multiple increases across all four health insurers since August last year.
A further 21,000 members cancelled their cover in the first three months of this year, and this trend is expected to continue, according to health insurance analyst Dermot Goode, who is now with PHI Consulting.
However, Goode says that for once there is some good news on the horizon for hard-pressed consumers, especially families.
All insurers have launched a number of what he says are attractive offers, targeted at both families and young adults who may be thinking of either reducing or cancelling their cover.
These offers include 50pc discounts for children and students and a new range of discounted health insurance (excess-based) plans.
An excess is the amount you have to pay when you make a claim.
Most of these offers will run from August 1 to September 30, with some running to the end of October.
How do I know if I am over-insured or if my plan is out-dated?
] If you have never properly reviewed your health insurance cover, then the odds are that you're over-insured and paying too much.
] Even if you're on the same plan for two years or more, then it is likely that your plan has been replaced by a lower-cost version.
] You may think because you are on a good "corporate" plan, that you have the best deal. These plans change annually and you need to track the latest version at each renewal to lock in the best rates, Goode says.
] If you have all the family on the same level of cover, then you are missing out on potential savings by not splitting your cover across different plans.
] If you're paying for extras such as a private room or for complementary plans such as VHI Health Steps Gold or Aviva's Day-to-Day 50, then you are missing out on valuable savings, according to Goode.
] If you are considering changing your cover on the basis of advice from your health insurer always check their recommendation either on the HIA (Health Insurance Authority) website at www.hia.ie, or get advice from an expert to make sure you're getting the best plan possible that suits your requirements.
When can I review my cover?
Unfortunately, all insurers now operate annual contracts, which means you are locked in until your next renewal date.
You will receive your pre-renewal notice four weeks prior to the renewal date, which is your wake-up call to start shopping around.
However, you also have 14 days after your renewal date as well, so all is not lost if your renewal has just passed, Goode says.
If you are switching from one provider to another, ensure you cancel your previous cover.
"Having one policy is expensive enough, but finding yourself locked into two policies is a scenario you want to avoid," Goode says.
What are the best family deals?
From the start of this month VHI will be offering half-price cover on all its plans for children and students.
This offer runs until October 31, and will automatically be shown on your renewal notice.
For a family of two adults and two children, the savings range from €232 to €462, depending on the plan.
And Goode advises consumers to be careful not to just renew on the same plan and take the offer.
"Check out the other lower-cost options to maximise your savings. PMI 30 12 is an excellent alternative plan.
"It does include co-payments for certain procedures in private hospitals, but otherwise it is well worth considering."
If you are looking for low-cost cover for your family and don't mind taking on a high excess for admissions to private hospitals only, check out the One Plan 500.
Finally, do not have all the family on the same plan.
By splitting your cover, you are all still on the same policy but on a level of cover specific to each person's needs.
Laya is now offering half-price cover for children and student dependents on its Essential Connect Family scheme.
This plan carries a €300 excess per policy, per year for a private hospital admissions and will cost €154 per dependent under 21 years old.
For those still insured on the Essential Plus scheme, you need to consider lower-cost equivalents.
The Total Health No Excess scheme offers identical cover to the Essential Plus plan and comes in at a saving of over €770 per adult, Goode said.
If you are looking for a lower-cost option that will continue to give your family access to both public and private hospitals, but do not mind paying a high excess for private hospital treatment, take a look at the new Precision 600 Connect scheme.
This plan costs €604 per adult but has a €600 excess per private hospital admission - including day case procedures.
GloHealth continues to offer excellent value for money for young families, Goode said.
It is the only provider on the market that offers free cover for children under the age of three on its mid-range plans.
This means that on their Better Plan, you save €272 per child.
The Best Plan provides excellent cover but some consumers may be looking for better value cover, Goode said.
If you want to reduce your costs and are willing to take on a small excess, the Better Plan offers equivalent cover for private hospitals (€100 excess for overnight, €50 excess for day cases), Mr Goode said.
Like the other providers, GloHealth has a number of low-cost options such as the Net Most 500 which covers most public and private hospitals with a €500 excess on overnight admissions.
However, unlike other high-excess plans, its day-case excess is very competitive at €50 per admission, he said.
With the Net Most products, customers can tailor cover to suit their personal requirements and their budget.
From the start of this month Aviva is launching a new plan called the Be Fit 2.1 with a special introductory offer for children of €168. This represents a saving of over €200 per child in comparison to the Level 2 Hospital option.
The company will also have a €150 offer on their Hospital Focus for kids aged between five and 17.
For Level 2 Hospital members, Mr Goode recommends the new Be Fit 3 plan (€1,413 per adult) which covers a private room in both public and private hospitals, with a €75 excess per private hospital admission.
This plan also includes excellent day-to-day cover for your routine medical expenses.
If you are willing to accept a higher level of excess for admissions to private hospitals, the First Focus 500 is very competitively priced (€500 excess on overnight stays in private hospitals), he said. This plan only covers selected public and private hospitals so ensure you are happy with the network of hospitals before opting for this plan, Goode advised.