Shop around for Health Cover

If you’ve been stung by VHI increases. Shop around for a better price. The following article is by Dick O’Brien (Sunday Business Post).
Consumers affected by the VHI’s hike in premiums last week should begin shopping around for better alternatives, a health insurance consultant has said.

Aonghus Loughlin, head of healthcare and risk consulting at Towers Watson, said VHI premiums had gone up by such a margin for many customers that better value was likely to be found by changing policies.

‘‘The first thing I’d say to people is that they have to take stock of what is important to them,” Loughlin said. ‘‘If they want to maintain cover in a particular hospital or type of hospital, they need to tell their current provider – and possibly the others – that these are the benefits they want to keep, and ask can they get them at a lower rate.”

Loughlin said that, in general, consumers were likely to be successful in getting what they wanted.

There are now 250 plan options available from the three health insurance providers: VHI, Quinn Healthcare and Aviva.

‘‘It is possible to switch – either with their existing provider or a new insurer – to a plan that will provide the same, if not somewhat better, coverage as they have now for a lower cost,” he said. ‘‘It will take a little bit of research but, once people take the time to decide what’s important to them, they can definitely make savings.”

Loughlin said many of the newer plans were more suitable to consumers than older options.

‘‘The vast majority have added what I would call a guaranteed outpatient element,” he said. ‘‘In the past, on Plan B, if you went to a GP, you paid the bill, and you got something back only when you hit a very high threshold.

These new plans have a €1 excess and guarantee that, on anything over that, clients will get something back. People who have young children or who are accident prone and end up going to the doctor a lot, should consider those plans.”

However, with speculation rife that other health insurers could follow the VHI’s lead and increase premiums, consumers are concerned that, even if they shift to an alternative provider, they could be again hit with price increases. Loughlin said that, while there was always the risk that another provider could also hike prices, they could only do so from the annual renewal date.

‘‘Anybody who renewed on January 1 with the VHI will not be affected by price rises until January next year,” he said. ‘‘You are guaranteed that, at the very minimum, prices won’t go up until renewal.

You can always make the decision to switch again at renewal date.”

Another alternative for those affected by the increase is to opt for a corporate plan.

While these plans are designed for businesses, every health insurance product has to be made available to all consumers.

Consumers could also seek to make their annual renewal early, before the new rises take effect, and thus get a number of months extra at the current price.

The VHI announced last Thursday that it was increasing premiums by between 15 and 45 per cent from February 1. The annual premium for the average family (two adults and two children) will increase by about €331, or €27.60 a month.

The 15 per cent increase will be levied on about 60 per cent of all VHI customers, namely holders of Plan A, Parents & Kids, LifeStage Choices and One plans.

Other VHI plans will be subject to larger increases. Plan B and Plan B Excess will increase by 35 per cent. Plan B Options will see the highest increase of 45 per cent.

Premiums for Plan C will be increased by 25 per cent, while Plans D and E will see a 21 per cent increase.