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Smart Consumer: Do your homework to keep health costs at a minimum

Ask and you shall receive. At least that's what we're told should happen.

But what actually happens if you call a big company with a lot of products, let's say private health insurance policies? Do you expect that out of the hundreds of policies they may sell, they'll run through the best and cheapest options for you? Or do you expect to do the legwork yourself?

Annie was hoping for a little more than she got when she phoned her health insurance provider, Laya, to renew the family's policy.

She says she was "unprepared for the total", which came to €3,232.87 for two adults and three children, a massive hike on the previous year.

It transpired that the main reason for the increase was that her daughter turns 21 this month and so her premium jumped from around €250 per year to €920.79.

Annie says she asked the customer services person for any alternative for her daughter but he didn't mention other options.

He did, however, remind Annie that if her daughter's policy lapsed for more than 13 weeks, when she joined again there would be a five-year wait period for any ongoing health concerns.

It is true that if there is a 13-week gap or longer between policies, you become a new customer when you sign up again (whatever the insurer) and waiting periods apply. But for under-55s, the waiting period is 26 weeks and only jumps to five years if there is a pre-existing illness.

Before making up her mind, Annie decided to check out the various policies on offer on Laya's website. She typed in 'one adult' and found the Essential First policy for €485; a policy with fewer benefits but one that was €435.79 cheaper than the amount quoted for her daughter to remain on the family policy.

"Why didn't the guy tell me that when I phoned?" says Annie. Out of interest she phoned Laya again, this time talking to someone else. The cheaper policy wasn't offered until Annie specifically pressed.

"I can get her on First Essentials on our policy, or open her own membership," says Annie.

There are a few lessons we can all learn from Annie's experience.

Firstly, health insurance providers are allowed to offer reduced premiums, at more than 50pc of the adult premium, for full-time dependent students.

The age range is 18 to 21 with Laya and the cut-off is also 21 with VHI, except for One Plan and One Plus Plan where it's 22 years. At Aviva, the age limit will be 21 years (down from 23) from June 17. So if you have children that fit that profile, take note.

Secondly, your children do not have to be on the exact same policy as you. Their health requirements may not be as great, so you could move them to a lower level of cover to save on the premium cost.

Thirdly, we should ask, ask again and then ask some more until we receive. And it definitely pays to do a bit of homework yourself.

On asking Laya what their general policy is for giving advice to customers on policy options, they responded: "At Laya healthcare, our customer care team works hard to ensure that all customers are taken through the many options open to them and that the scheme best-suited to their needs is identified."

But they also said "it would not be practical to guide customers through each of the 43 schemes on offer. However details of all our schemes are available on our website".

So do your own research, it's the best way of saving.

Irish Independent