Consumers ‘afraid to shop around’ for health insurance

Many paying over the odds because of reluctance to switch provider, says HIA chief

More than one million people have never switched health insurance provider,  according to the chief executive of the Health Insurance Authority, Laura Brien. Photograph: iStock

More than one million people have never switched health insurance provider, according to the chief executive of the Health Insurance Authority, Laura Brien. Photograph: iStock

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Hundreds of thousands of consumers could be paying over the odds for reduced levels of health insurance cover because they are afraid to shop around, the head of the authority governing the sector has warned.

Annual savings amounting to hundreds of euro are available to many who switch health insurance policies, but more than one million have never looked for better value, according to the chief executive of the Health Insurance Authority (HIA), Laura Brien.

Ms Brien cited as-yet unpublished research carried out by the HIA which has found that just one third of people with private health insurance had ever switched, with most having only done so once.

The figures mean that in excess of 1.2 million people have never switched policy. “People are worried more about what they might lose rather than thinking about what they might gain,” she said.

“They are concerned that if they switch they might lose access to certain hospitals or consultants or not have the same level of cover that they previously had.”

Waiting periods

She also noted a widespread misunderstanding about how waiting periods are applied by insurers. “People think that waiting periods start again if they switch but that is not the case,” she said.

Once a person has a certain level of cover with one company, if they switch to a different policy then waiting periods only apply for any enhanced cover offered, she explained.

She said the HIA’s research suggests one reason people do not want to make changes is because it seems complicated and there are multiple things to consider. “That can lead people to make no decision because they are worried about making the wrong decision.”

She stopped short of saying health insurers were exploiting the complexity of health insurance to increase their profits, but said they were “not trying to simplify things”.

Ms Brien pointed out that not only have prices gone up over recent years for many policies, but the level of cover offered by companies has changed, which could leave consumers facing substantial bills for future treatments.