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Brace yourself: health cover costs are going only one way

Insurance is one of life’s necessary evils with one-way traffic when it comes to premiums. Now the heads of the two biggest health insurers warn that costs could double over the next decade.
Today’s average premium of €1,200 will increase to over €2,400 at the same time as cover for procedures is cut in an attempt to maintain the costs of medical inflation.
In reality, and if premiums up to now are anything to go by, that sounds conservative – and policyholders are less certain about what exactly their massive premium goes towards any more.

Land in a public hospital via A&E, and you’ll be languishing just as long on a trolley as a public patient, get admitted to the same ward as a public patient, and get exactly the same treatment as a public patient. But your insurer will get a whopping great bill at the end of it – €800 per night plus doctors’ fees, which, of course, will translate back to you in higher premiums.
The public patient only needs to fork out a 10th of that for the bed, and nothing at all if they have a medical card.

The HSE’s ingenious money-making exercise, where some patients have reported being chased around the hospital by an administrator to find out if they’re ‘private’, nets public hospitals €600m a year.
The chiefs of the Vhi and Irish Life also blamed an ageing population. They’re not blaming old people, you understand, but the irony is it is precisely the advanced medical services that cost so much which are keeping us living longer.

But nature is nature, and it is an absolute fact that the older you are, the greater the chance of you needing medical procedures and hospitalisation.
The recent census showed that 532,000 of the population are now aged over 65; this is expected to almost triple to 1.4 million by 2046. Those over 80 fare even better; the current figure of 128,000 octogenarians is set to top 484,000 in 30 years. But the cost implications are stark.

Health costs will soar, public and private, but insurers have a tough call to make. Perhaps they should restrict all private customers to have treatment only in private hospitals – they are run far more efficiently and cost-effective than public ones.
Investment in technology and pharmaceuticals is essential but it doesn’t come cheap and if the Government really wants to encourage people to stop being a burden on the public system, it needs to dangle a carrot, not hit with a stick. Put back full tax relief on premiums and fulfil a key election promise from 2011: to bring in universal health insurance.

Then the clipboard administrators can do a proper job.

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