06 Dec 2021

Jill Kerby - Health insurance dilemma

Tomorrow is an important day for any parent who wants to keep private health insurance cover for their families.

Tomorrow is an important day for any parent who wants to keep private health insurance cover for their families.

Last week, a very upset mother explained what can happen when the cost is prohibitive.

Her baby had glue-ear. A “very common” condition, she explained on a national radio station last week. Usually, a minor corrective treatment involving the insertion of grometts and a period of ‘watchful waiting’ will do the trick.

For some children, however, an operation may be necessary, especially where hearing loss is more serious.

In the case of this child, it took over a year for her child to be seen by a paediatric ear, nose and throat consultant for a proper diagnosis and more than another year before an operation took place. In all, it was nearly three years before the infant (now six) was properly treated. The operation didn’t work as well as it might, (had she been treated sooner) and her hearing loss may not have been so serious.

In the week that the building of the national children’s hospital has been put off due to an overturned planning decision, this mother had every right to complain about the lack of affordable treatment and hospital services for her child and the children of Ireland.

But it also raises another issue: the cost of access to treatment and the choices we make in a society that is chronically unable to prioritise our collective and individual spending on health care.

This family, despite having earned could not afford health care for their four children despite the great need for prompt treatment: three of the children have medical conditions, she said.

The total cost, is, of course more than just the annual insurance premiums:

there are also GP bills and other outpatient treatments that may not be even part-covered by a plan, plus up to €132 a month worth of medication outside the Drug Treatment Payment Scheme.

But with another €700 million plus being stripped out of the public health care budget in 2012 (and probably next year too), private health insurance

(PHI) costs rising at double digit rates, and over 60,000 people dropping their insurance and reverting to the national service in 2011, families who are not on medical cards need to re-examine how they can meet healthcare costs that are only going to go one way - up.

Today is a crucial deadline day for any family with VHI cover. It is the last day that the VHI’s One Plus ‘kids go free’ offer is available for existing customers to switch to or for new customers to join as the state insurer raises its rates tomorrow by between 6%-12.5%. Quinn Healthcare is also raising its 2012 prices tomorrow (Aviva did so this month) and all three are withdrawing their special value, ‘kids go free’ offers by mid-March.

The clock is ticking, but switching to these offers within the deadline, says the specialist health insurance advisor Dermot Goode of <> can save as much as €1,800 a year for a typical family.

If you have no choice, and simply cannot afford the €1700 or €1800 the reduced plans will still cost – and families where redundancy has struck one parent or where the cost of living has made everyday bills like the rent or mortgage, the utility bill and car insurance impossible to pay on time – the inclination may be to heavily cut back or abandon the insurance altogether.

As one reader – one of the 66,000 who has stopped paying for PHI put it recently, “we’re going to have to take our chances with public health and hope no one gets too sick this year.”

It’s a tough decision, especially if you have already had an experience in the past of regular visits to GPs, consultants and in-patient facilities with a child who suffered from tonsillitis or glue-ear or a host of other not too dangerous conditions that can affect certain families, but which was able to be treated pretty quickly because you had health insurance.

Now, when so many families can no longer even ensure that both the adults are covered, their remaining options are to try and drop down to the lowest value (and benefit) plans either for themselves and the children and hope they will have sufficient money to meet the ‘excess’ payments; or give up private healthcare altogether.

Dermot Goode says there may be another way. It wasn’t too long ago that the insurers allowed children to be insured separately, “but no longer. They require an adult member before children can be covered”.

One way for a family to keep their children covered, he says “could be for a grandparent or other willing adult – an aunt or uncle, say, who already has insurance, to add the child or children onto their membership and then collect the premiums from the child’s parent.”

According to Goode, entry level plans that are suitable for the vast majority of healthy children are as inexpensive as €207 a year and is far more affordable for two or even three children than even the cheapest family plans that require full cost cover for two parents. It is also a way to afford the peace of mind needed if parents are worried about the long waiting lists associated with so many treatments that are considered ‘elective’ by the public health service but which can debilitate a small child if delayed.

“This ‘solution’ is just the reverse of something I’ve seen many times, where better off adult children paid for a parent or other elderly relative’s insurance cover which they couldn’t afford themselves,” says Goode. It’s actually just another example of how, in hard times, families can build a personal financial Ark, and do their best to make sure that nobody gets left behind.

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