The health insurance market gets its strength back

Health policy numbers perk up significantly as sector reaches for its 2008 heyday

Health insurance cover has been rising for two straight years. Photograph: iStock

Health insurance cover has been rising for two straight years. Photograph: iStock

 

The recovering health cover sector, slowly but consistently regaining its strength, will leave insurance companies feeling a lot better.

Go back almost a decade to the lugubrious days of 2009 and you may recall all manner of self-inflicted spending cuts among those attempting to navigate the choppy wake of the financial collapse.

Consumers, according to an Irish Times poll of the day, ruthlessly slashed medication spending, GP visits, home heating, electricity, newspapers and, yes, health insurance.

Towards the end of that year, policies fell away at a rate of about 10 per cent. In a report to the Department of Health, the regulating Health Insurance Authority (HIA) said the numbers were continuing to fall, although they were still at 2,278,000.

While then minister for health Mary Harney attempted to play down the early symptoms of market exodus, the HIA told her department the drop-off was likely to accelerate.

“It is very probable that the economic crisis and the resulting major fall in employment will lead to a fall in numbers with health insurance, even allowing for intense marketing activity and other determining factors,” it said.

This was not what Harney, nor indeed the insurance companies, wanted to hear, but the economic landscape became increasingly forlorn.

By the end of June 2010 there were 2.23 million health insurance subscribers, a reduction of 10,000 on the figures for the previous three months. The HIA said about 40,000 fewer people were covered than at the same period in 2009.

By 2010 and 2011 the numbers of insured were at about 2.2 million and 2.16 million respectively. In 2014 a malnourished sector reached the nadir of its health when just 2.025 million people held policies.

Today, the market is feeling much better. The HIA annual report for 2016 showed an increase of 30,000 policy holders, and two straight years of growth.

“During the recession there was a notable decrease in the numbers insured in the young adult cohorts,” said Don Gallagher, HIA chief executive. “However this trend has reversed in the last two years due to growth in employment and an associated reduction in net emigration.”

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