How you can save money on your health insurance

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

How you can save money on your health insurance

Recent budget cuts mean that our already troubled health services are going to be under even more pressure during 2009 and 2010. Despite costing us taxpayers nearly €16bn for 2009 – almost 25% of every penny spent by the government – cutbacks in services, staffing and increased charges to patients means that looking after ourselves is going to be harder than ever if we’re ill in the coming couple of years.

This article is going to look at the cost of private health insurance and how you can get the best value for your money. But first, it’s worth remembering that you’re already paying for our health service through our taxes and the mysterious “health levy” that many of us heard of for the first time when it was doubled in the last budget.

The Health Act of 2004 set up the HSE with the specific aim to “provide services that improve, promote and protect the health and welfare of the public.” Yet while consuming billions of our own tax money, the policies of successive governments has left many of us thinking that the only way we can look after ourselves is by paying for our healthcare on the double.

Options

When it comes to private health insurance, we have three main options – the VHI, Quinn Healthcare and Hibernian Aviva Health. Yet with only three companies, there are over 40 types of health insurance that you could buy for you and your family.

Because of this ridiculously unnecessary complexity, if you already have health insurance, it’s always worth checking ever year before you renew your policy to make sure that you’re on the most suitable policy for your need and that you’re not paying more than you should.

Switching

Like everything else in life, Irish businesses depend on their customers always staying a customer and rarely changing to a different country. We find it with our bank accounts, our mobile phone companies and our electricity suppliers, and also with our health insurance companies.

It is now the law that in most circumstances, people can switch between health insurance providers without losing cover or having to serve new waiting periods. This means that switching is as easy as finding a better cheaper alternative and filling in the documentation.

Costs

The VHI and Hibernian Aviva websites provide simple checklists to help you find the best cover.

If you’re still not so sure, the Health Insurance Authority, the regulator for health insurance companies, provides regularly updated tables of price comparisons across all plans provided by the three companies.

Assuming you’re getting your first health insurance policy for yourself only, choosing a public hospital with a semi-private room and a certain amount of coverage for day to day medical expenses, your annual costs for cover could range from €575 with Quinn Healthcare, to €584 from Hibernian Aviva, to €640 with the VHI.

How much does your doctor charge? Do you visit the doctor that often? If you went for the most basic coverage, without the day to day medical expenses cover (where you can still get tax relief from the government) you could cut your yearly premium to €330 with Quinn Healthcare, to €477 from Hibernian Aviva, to €568 with the VHI – a potential saving of up to €200.

For a couple looking with two kids to get similar cover, the annual premium costs will range from €1750 with the VHI, €1800 with Hibernian Aviva, and €1980 with Quinn Healthcare.

No matter the policy you chose, or the company you go with, you should always compare what’s included or excluded as part of the deal. Depending on your choice, the different companies will have a variety of added extras that might be useful depending on your situation.

Make Further Savings

It is possible that depending on your personal or family age, current health and history that you could decide to do without buying private health insurance at all.

You’re not obliged to have private health insurance – unlike car insurance for example – so you could do without it. But obviously there is a risk involved, but if you’re generally healthy then you could save yourself a bundle.

Obviously this solution isn’t suitable for everyone, but it is worth considering. If you’d like to cover yourself, just in case, you could put away the equivalent of your yearly premium into a savings account every year instead. Then, if you did need some medical treatment you couldn’t get through the HSE, you’d have a lump sum to pay the costs.

Over a period of 10 years, you could potentially (as a single person) build up a nest egg of more than €6000 if you’re lucky enough not to be sick.

* Hibernian Aviva have updated their health insurance plans and costs recently – check out their website for further details.

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