Pricewatch reader queries: a healthy approach to cheaper cover

An expert tells one reader how to make savings on health insurance; and AIB’s overzealous card security measures drive another reader mad

AIB: said it should have been told customer was abroad

How to get a better health insurance deal

On the back of our item about health insurance last week, we got a mail in from a reader. “I was wondering if you could help me out with something,” it starts. “My mum and myself have our health insurance with the VHI. We are on the old plan B; I think it is called Healthplus Access now. I’ve read your advice about asking VHI about corporate plans. Our renewal is coming up in January, and last year I paid €3,600 for cover.”

She knows it is common practice for the insurers “to not readily offer these plans. However, it seems they do have to offer them to you if you ask. My query is, do you just request the equivalent corporate plan at renewal, or do you have to know exactly what corporate plan equates to the plan you are currently on? Would you be able to advise me what the best equivalent corporate VHI plans are for Healthplus Access? I’d be worried that I would ask for the wrong one.”

We asked an expert, Dermot Goode, who runs the website "Firstly, she needs to be careful as both she and her mother will have different cover requirements. Secondly, she is correct in terms of how to approach the insurer: do your research first and then ask for a specific level of cover when you contact them. Otherwise, they'll propose what suits them."

For the mother, Goode assumes she wants to maintain a similar standard of cover in terms of having no co-payments for certain orthopaedic or ophthalmic procedures. She could consider Health Plus Excess with VHI, which is identical to her current plan, except she will have a €75 excess on any admissions to private hospitals. In return, she can reduce her cost to €1,599 (saving €221). If the Beacon Hospital or full psychiatric cover isn't important, she could switch to the Total Health No Excess product with Laya Healthcare, costing €1,572. This product has no excesses in private hospitals and will save her €248.


If the daughter is in good health and doesn’t mind accepting some level of risk in return for good savings, she could opt for the PMI 36 13 corporate plan with VHI, which costs €1,123 and provides excellent all-round cover, including private in public hospitals, semi-private in private hospitals subject to a €75 excess per admission, full cardiac cover in the high-tech hospitals, and day-to-day cover for routine medical expenses. “This plan includes co-payments on those orthopaedic and ophthalmic procedures, which she’d need to be happy with,” says Goode. “There are similar-priced plans for her with all health providers if she wanted to consider switching to another insurer.”

So if this reader moved to this VHI corporate plan and her mother moved to VHI Health Plus Excess, they could save €918 and still have excellent cover. Goode says people need to bear in mind that some of these rates could be subject to change, “and we won’t have full visibility on same until December”.

Bank froze my debit card just because I was abroad

An angry reader from Dublin has been in touch. AIB is to blame. "I was in the US and spent a reasonable amount in one shop, and the next thing you know, my card was frozen," she writes.

She was on holiday in Chicago and wanted to go shopping. “I assumed it was a problem with US machines reading the Irish card, and I did not discover what had actually happened until I was home several days and went to get petrol and the card was rejected again,” she writes.

It was at this point that she called AIB. She was told that the bank had noticed the Chicago transaction and called her on her mobile. She did not answer, and, although the bank official presumably had heard the foreign dial tone, the card was stopped anyway. She says the bank was “quite sniffy” when she called to find out what was going on, and she was told she should have let them know she was going away. “Talk about Big Brother.”

We contacted AIB and a spokeswoman said the bank was “sorry the customer was inconvenienced”.

She said that bank “proactively monitors transactions on debit and credit cards to identify fraud. “We have systems that will highlight unusual transactions, and, if a suspicious transaction is identified, a temporary block may be placed on a card. We will always make contact with the customer to verify the transaction.”

She said customers could “contact us to advise they are travelling and we will note this on their account. This can also be completed through internet banking, by selecting ‘manage my accounts’, ‘my cards’ and then adding a travel note.

So, a single transaction in the US from an AIB customer who has routinely travelled there is deemed “unusual”. And it is now AIB customers’ responsibility to let their bank know of their travel plans. You have been warned.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor