Price rises see 65,000 quit health insurance


THE SPIRALLING cost of health cover saw 65,000 people abandon their private health insurance policies last year, according to official figures released today.

The rate of decline doubled last year compared with the numbers exiting the market in 2010, the latest figures from the Health Insurance Authority show.

With more than 1,000 people surrendering policies each week last year, the figures indicate people are more proactive in seeking value, with more switching policies than before. The agency’s latest data shows that 25 per cent of consumers have switched at least once, compared to an annual “switching” rate of 1 per cent five years ago.

According to agency chief executive Liam Sloyan, the single biggest factor for the increased switching market has been price, with many people deciding to downgrade policies or opt for excesses in order to cut costs.

The number of people on corporate policies has also increased significantly over the last 12 months; one in three people with private health insurance customers has now taken out a corporate plan. Although such plans are only marketed to businesses, they are available to everyone and frequently cost significantly less than mainstream policies, Mr Sloyan said.

In December 2008, the number of people with health insurance stood at 2,297,000. Since then, the market has been in decline with the number falling to 2,163000 at the end of last year, a loss of 134,000 customers in three years.

Mr Sloyan said “there was a lot of inertia” during the boom but that changed with the economic conditions. Growing numbers were recognising they “can save hundreds of euro and still have a similar level of benefits”.

He highlighted a lack of awareness among consumers of their rights when it comes to switching.

The data shows the impact of switching has offset many of the price increases. While three price increases were announced by providers, and some prices rose by over 60 per cent in just 18 months, the average cost of premiums in 2011 was up just 6 per cent when compared with 2010.