Number of people with private health insurance close to height of Celtic Tiger

Rise in subscriptions due to ‘ongoing market stability’

John O’Dwyer, chief Executive of Vhi. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

John O’Dwyer, chief Executive of Vhi. Photograph: Aidan Crawley


Another 46,000 people took out private health insurance last year as the economy continued to improve, according to the latest annual report of the Health Insurance Authority.

The number of people insured increased for the fourth year in a row to reach 2.22 million, close to the maximum seen at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom.

However, at 45 per cent, the percentage of the population with private health insurance is still well off the 51 per cent recorded in December 2008, just before the economic downturn set in.

HIA chief executive Don Gallagher attributed the further rise in subscriptions to “ongoing market stability and Ireland’s growing economy”.

Consumers continue to value private health insurance and have a strong desire to have “some form of coverage”, he said.

The “complexity” of the market remains high, he admitted, and the average age of those insures continues to rise. “That is why it is extremely important that consumers are proactive in reviewing their policy benefits at renewal and the HIA continues to provide its website comparison tool and dedicated consumer helpline as significant aids to consumers.”


Over-60s pay 30 per cent more in premiums than younger customers due to the combined effect of “targeted product features and the difference in premiums for different products” for the most popular levels of cover, according to the report.

Older consumers are likely to have a greater requirement for full orthopaedic cover, which was only available with more expensive policies in two of the three insurers last year. “On average, older consumers desire a better level of hospital coverage compared to younger consumers and also may be more reluctant to switch plans and/or insurers.”

There is evidence that the incidence of switching providers may have plateaued, according to the report. Less than one in four subscribers have ever switched. Among those who have never switched, just 10 per cent have even considered switching.

The average amount paid for a health insurance premium for in-patient cover decreased by 0.8 per cent from €1,220 in 2017 to €1,210 in 2018.

Premium income last year among was €2.85 billion, compared to €2.66 billion in 2017. More than €738million was redistributed under the risk equalisation scheme during 2018, up from €668 million from the previous year; the scheme operates to compensate insurers with heavier claims costs arising from an older cohort of customers.

Vhi Healthcare, which has a greater share of older customers, has an overall market share of 50 per cent. Laya Healthcare’s market share is 26 per cent, Irish Life Health has 20 per cent of the market.