VHI price increases 'will drive elderly out of market'
Date Posted: 07.01.2011
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Source: The Irish Times - Friday, January 7, 2011
OLDER PEOPLE have been targeted by price increases of up to 45 per cent which were announced by the country’s largest health insurance provider, VHI, yesterday and many will now be driven out of the market, support groups for the elderly have said.
The company announced plans to significantly increase the cost of its premiums from the beginning of next month and the move will be “the final straw” for some people, according to Mairéad Hayes, chief executive of the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament.
Age Action Ireland echoed her concerns and said the price increases would put healthcare beyond the reach of many older people.
People insured under the company’s Plan B and Plan B Options policies, which are popular among an older demographic, will be hardest hit by the rises. While the average increase for the majority of the health insurer’s 1.35 million subscribers will be 15 per cent, people on those two plans will see costs rise by between 35 and 45 per cent.
From February 1st, the premium for an adult on Plan B will go up by €317 to €1,224, while someone with a Plan B Options policy will see their annual premium rise by €444 to €1,430.Some 29 per cent of the health insurer’s customers currently have one or other of these policies.
Industry sources have said that more significant price increases in private health insurance are inevitable as the higher costs of private beds in public hospitals and advances in medical technology, coupled with an improved life expectancy, put more pressure on the VHI’s finances.
VHI chief executive Jimmy Tolan said he regretted the increases but claimed they were unavoidable. He said that people were accessing more healthcare and said higher prices were the “trade-off”.
He said more than half the VHI’s expenditure covered the healthcare costs of older customers and expressed the belief that this would rise. “Our older customers will continue to live longer with more chronic conditions, thus requiring more medical care.”
He said the company would have faced average losses of €850 on each of its 129,000 customers over 70 if it did not raise premiums.
He added that he anticipated VHI customers would need 10 per cent more healthcare in 2011 compared to last year and said recently announced increases in costs in public hospitals of 21 per cent would add a further €60 million to its 2011 bill.
Mr Tolan was paid a salary of €412,000 in 2009 but when asked yesterday if he had taken a pay cut last year, he declined to comment other than to say he had not taken the job for “personal enrichment”. He also refused to say if any VHI staff had taken a pay cut last year.
He did point out that the VHI had negotiated a 15 per cent reduction in consultants’ fees, a 6 per cent reduction in private hospital fees and reduced administration costs by €15 million. He said, however, that the costs associated with patients staying in public hospitals had increased by 100 per cent in five years “and we don’t get to negotiate with them”.
Mr Tolan told The Irish Times that while he anticipated the company would see some customers abandon policies – it lost 48,000 subscribers last year – he did not expect that number to exceed 5 per cent.
Employers’ group Ibec and Opposition parties also criticised the price hike. Fine Gael spokesman on health Dr James Reilly said universal health insurance would be introduced “as soon as possible” on the party gaining power. He said it was already in talks with a major international insurance provider on the provision of such insurance at levels below current market prices.