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Health insurers can do more to halt the exodus

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VHI has cut prices

VHI has cut prices

VHI has cut prices

Health insurance companies today stand accused of "playing down" price increases on some of their plans. While they would, of course, wish to minimise these increases as 250,000 customers abandon health insurance because of unsustainable costs, it does the sector no service not to be completely upfront about these relentless increases and where they will occur.

According to new research, a 20pc price increase flagged by Laya will actually see some of its plans rise by between 35pc and 40pc.

Over at the VHI, a 3pc price increase actually means that one of its most popular plans will increase by 8pc.

The health insurance companies argue that the increases they announced are "average" over all their plans.

But one health insurance expert is quoted as saying that they are doing this "to mask the full impact of rate increases".

However, hard-pressed consumers in the 'squeezed middle' considering abandoning health insurance have been cautioned that there may be an alternative to the drastic step of giving up health insurance and relying fully on an already over-loaded public system.

Patrick Brennan, of the advisory service Irish Health Insurance, has estimated that there are over 260 different health insurance plans and a majority simply sign up for one plan and stay on it.

He believes that before leaving the market altogether, consumers should look at a compromise solution: review your plan to fit your current family circumstances, which may be quite different to the ones you signed up for and might yield considerable savings.

While this may require people to use health insurance in a different way – and leave the consumer open to 'top-ups' for various procedures, or less salubrious accommodation – private health insurance still ensures one has access to the best care available in the quickest time frame.

It also may be time for the heath insurance companies themselves to review the number of plans on offer and streamline these to reflect the new reality.

Consumers are now looking for the equivalent of the 'early bird' and 'value' menus and insurance companies need to service this demand to stem the exodus from private health care.

Homophobia row highlights why reform needed in legislation

It is astonishing that, despite the storms, the alcohol debate and other world events, the RTE 'Saturday Night Show'/ Homophobic debate rumbles on. Now taking centre stage are the size of the payouts to the various parties who threatened legal action against RTE, and a promise by Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte to relax what he now concedes is the country's "unfeasibly rigorous approach" to free speech.

It has now also emerged that the commentator John Waters got €40,000 of the total of €85,000 paid by RTE to the various parties who threatened legal action over comments by Rory O'Neill, although he was prepared to take considerably less if the broadcaster agreed to broadcast an apology drafted by him.

While the sums involved might appear excessive to some people, there is little doubt that had RTE contested these claims and lost, it could have added another nought in legal costs.

Looked at dispassionately, it would appear RTE's decision to make a reasonably substantial and rapid settlement was wise.

Promising reform, Mr Rabbitte has said in the Dail: "We all know how easy it is for some people to be offended even where offence was not intended and is not objectively ascertainable."

It will be interesting to see how he will legislate to implement such changes to enable greater freedom of speech.

Irish Independent