Insurers consider how to react to State’s co-opting of private hospitals

Industry urged to pause health premium payments during response to coronavirus

Blackrock Clinic: Insurers say they need exact details of the deal reached between the Government and private hospitals before deciding how to respond. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Blackrock Clinic: Insurers say they need exact details of the deal reached between the Government and private hospitals before deciding how to respond. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Health insurers have indicated they need time to assess the implications of the Government’s decision to bring all private hospitals under public control during the coronavirus crisis before they can confirm their next steps.

Insurance Ireland, the umbrella group representing the State’s private health insurers, has, however, committed to playing “a constructive role” during the pandemic.

Along with its members, Insurance Ireland is set to meet health officials in the days ahead as the industry faces calls to relax premium payments during the response to the coronavirus.

The insurers have indicated they will need to see the exact details of the deal reached between the Government and private hospitals before deciding on how to respond to the unprecedented move.

A VHI spokeswoman said it was “too early to understand the implications and we will be engaging with Government over the next couple of days to see how this is implemented and will be informing our customers as soon as we have something to share”.

Sector overhaul

Irish Life Health and Laya are also understood to be working out what this overhaul of the health sector might mean for their businesses.

The Health Insurance Consultative Forum – which involves private insurers, the Department of Health and the Health Insurance Authority – is expected to meet to discuss the matter in the near future but no date has been set.

Some Opposition politicians and the Irish Patients’ Association called for health insurers to consider a pause on premium payments during the crisis, particularly for households facing financial difficulties.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said there could be no question of those with private health insurance receiving “enhanced or increased access” to services during the crisis.

“Insurance companies need to understand the level of job losses, which will put extreme pressure on people. Many people who have private cover are going to be in the category of those who lost their jobs,” she said.

She said insurers needed to “show compassion” and in cases where people were under financial pressure “they need to be given a break” on payments.

Payment ‘inability’

Stephen McMahon of the Irish Patients’ Association said insurers should pause premium payments for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.

Stephen Donnelly, Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman, said he did not believe a “blanket pause” on premium payments was currently required.

However, he said if people were “demonstrating an inability to make monthly payments due to the coronavirus then insurers should look at a pause” which should not affect the customer’s future premium rate.

Dermot Goode, a health insurance consultant, said the insurance companies could not make any decisions until they had the “full facts” of the deal between the Government and private hospitals.

He said insurers would need clarity over what level of claims would continue to be made during the pandemic.

“There are lots of questions without answers . . . I would not be making any hasty changes to my cover,” he said, adding that non-elective treatments, or elective operations that were urgent, would still need to go ahead.

The Private Hospital Association has said discussions were “continuing on arrangements to allow the State to contract, for a temporary period, the country’s private hospital bed capacity”.