Health insurance has become so costly in Ireland in the past few years that thousands of people are unable to renew their annual subscriptions.
Indeed, the recent increases has put the cost of even the most modest health plans beyond the reach of many hard-pressed families.
And the cost of private health care in Ireland is also forcing even those who can just about afford their annual fee to wonder if it is worth retaining their cover considering that the benefits that are on offer will not give you 100% cover.
Our own family is no different than most households who have started to ask the question: what we are really paying for?
When you consider that insurance, now costing thousands of euro per annum, on top of monthly PRSI deducations, does not cover all of your family’s health and medical bills, it is a fair question to ask.
Not to mention the fact that the myriad of health insurance policies are tailored in such a way that only the super rich can afford the ‘ultra’ health insurance plans that gives the security of full health cover.
Health insurance comparison website not in the least helpful
Most people have to opt for the most affordable and popular health products which do not give full cover despite the costs being among the most expensive in the world.
On top of that, you still have to fork out extra money in the event of making a medical claim due the annual excess payment rules that insurance companies apply to policies.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, consultant fees are not always fully covered by your insurer, and neither are regular visits to the dentist and optician.
The recent arrival of our Vhi annual renewal notification in the post prompted me to see if there was a health insurance price comparison website in Ireland that would show me where I could get the best deal.
The only website that I could find that compares the cost of health cover offered by Vhi, Glo, Laya and Aviva was the site run by the Health Insurance Authority of Ireland.
Personally, I found the health insurance comparison website for Ireland not in the least helpful.
You are invited to compare your current health insurance plan with the competitors – but after several attempts all it did was leave me more confused.
In fairness, there are so many options on offer for the various plans, any such website is probably only going to provide the most basic price comparisons – but not the detail needed for important decision making on your health cover needs.
The best of the bunch was the Aviva website
Not having any luck with a comparision search, I decided to visit the invididual health insurance company websites to see how my current Vhi plan compared to what was on offer elsewhere.
However, I didn’t fear any better with that approach.
The best of the bunch was the Aviva website which sets out its plans in an easily understood side-by-side comparison table, showing the benefits and costs compared to other health insurers.
I found the Glo and Laya health insurer websites confusing and just gave up trying to figure out how their health cover plans compared to my current insurer, Vhi.
And, of course, trying to phone any of these organisations is a nightmare as yo are left hanging on the phone line for ever.
Beware that downsizing your policy can come back to haunt you
I finally got through to Vhi and spoke to a very helpful representative about our current plan and our options for saving money.
The upshot of our discussion was that while I could save about €900 overall per annum on our family policy by switching to a less expensive plan with only some minor loss in benefits – but there was a catch!
I discovered that by downsizing your policy you are penalised if you decide at some point in the future to upgrade once again to more expensive cover.
This means that for anyone under 55, you will not enjoy the benefits of the more expensive plan for 26 weeks for a new illness – and two years for an existing condition.
For over-55s, new illness cover does not kick in for one year – and two years for existing conditions.
In other words, you will be paying for the higher plan – but only receiving the benefits of the cheaper product until your excess time runs out.
So my advice to anyone thinking of switching health insurers, or changing plans, is to have a long and detailed conversation with your private health insurance provider.
You should have a list of questions and make sure you are clear on what exactly you are paying for – and the implications of any change in your current cover.
In the meantime, here’s health!