Irish Times

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 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.

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