Doctor holding out a stethoscope

How to choose the best health insurance plan

Multiple rate increases mean it’s important to regularly review your cover.

The high cost of health insurance is continuing to make headlines but, despite this, recent research from Switcher.ie showed that just one in ten of us plan to switch health insurance provider this year.

With only 3 health insurers operating in Ireland (Irish Life Health, Laya Healthcare, and VHI Healthcare), you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s not worth shopping around, but that’s not the case.

In actual fact, there are over 350 health plans on the market, so it’s highly likely you could get a better deal if you took the time to compare plans. Dermot Wells, General Manager of Cornmarket’s Health Insurance Division, has some pointers on this…

1. Review your cover each year

Insurers release new health plans into the market every year - and sometimes, the newer plans have similar benefits to existing plans, but at a lower cost.

Wells says: “That’s why it is so important to shop around each year in advance of your renewal date. This will help to ensure that you are always getting the right level of cover to suit your current circumstances.”

2. Don’t be afraid to switch

Each insurer gives you credit previous cover with a different provider, so you’re not going back to square one.

Wells explains: “The only time you will need to re-serve initial waiting periods is if you are re-joining health insurance after a gap of more than 13 weeks.”

You should be aware, though, that if you upgrade to a plan with new benefits you won’t be covered at the higher rate of benefits for any pre-existing conditions for the first 2 years of that plan.

3. Make sure you don’t drastically reduce your benefits

When you’re comparing deals, it can be really tempting to go for the cheapest plan you see. But Wells advises that you should be mindful that you’re not significantly reducing the level of benefits available to you under your plan.

If you’re using a broker, ask them to explain the key differences between your current plan and your new chosen plan. You may not think twice about downgrading cover for a cost saving, but remember that if you decide to upgrade again in the future, you’ll be hit with the 2-year upgrade rule for any pre-existing conditions.

4. Avail of ‘Young Adult Rates’, where possible

If you, or one of your dependents, is aged between 18 and 25, it will be possible to get discounted ‘Young Adult Rates’ on certain plans - with the biggest discounts available for those at the younger side of the age bracket.

You could save over 60%, so make sure you check if these rates are available on your plan.

5. Don’t assume that your whole family needs the same cover

It goes without saying that the health insurance cover you need changes as you go through the various life stages. So, if your partner and children (including adult dependents) are all on the same level of cover, then you could be overpaying for your policy.

Wells says: “Each member should be insured on a plan specific to their needs. For example, children under 16 may not need to have access to hi-tech hospitals, but this benefit could be important for older children as these hospitals are centres of excellence for cardiac procedures. By splitting cover you could save significantly at your next renewal.”

6. Take on an excess

An excess is the first part of the claim you are liable for. Most health insurance customers go for an excess of up to €150 for admission to a private hospital, but if you’re in good health, you could take on a higher excess - up to €600 per admission to a private hospital - to reduce your premium.

7. See if you can get onto a corporate plan

Wells says that all health insurers have ‘Corporate Plans’, which are available to everyone.

He advises: “These corporate plans may come in at a cheaper premium than other health plans, and still allow members to claim money back on everyday medical expenses such as GP, A&E and physio visits.” So, it could be worth asking your broker or insurer about corporate plans at your next renewal.