Switching health insurer - frequently asked questions
Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

It’s important to shop around for better value health insurance every few years. So in this guide we’ll take a look at some of the most common questions we get asked about the process to make it as easy as possible for you to switch and save!

When it comes to motor insurance we're never afraid to ring around to find the best deal for ourselves and switch insurer if we have to. 

But for some reason this willingness to switch doesn’t extend to other forms of insurance, especially health insurance.

However there are potentially big savings to be made by shopping around. And in some cases you could even end up with better cover too.

Nevertheless, many policyholders are daunted by the switching process and stay with the same insurer year in and year out, either out of fear or a misguided sense of loyalty.

So in this guide we'll explain everything you need to know about switching health insurance provider.

1. Are there many health insurance providers to choose from? 

There’s been some flux in the Irish health insurance market in recent years with exits, rebrands and mergers.  

Currently there are just three providers to choose from: VHI, Axa (formerly Laya) and Irish Life Health. However Aviva is set to re-enter the market later this year. 

But that doesn’t mean consumers are short of choice when it comes to plans.

There are well over 300 different health insurance plans being sold right now – so it’s a huge number and can make choosing the right plan extremely difficult.    

2. How often should I switch provider? 

In an ideal world you should take the time to review your cover every year at renewal stage, particularly if the price has gone up or there has been a big change in your circumstances that might require you to take out a different type of cover e.g. marriage, the birth of a baby, a child who’s no longer in full-time education, a dependant reaching the age of 26.  

However, life can be busy and we understand this may not always be possible. But as a general rule of thumb, an in-depth review should be carried out at least every five years.

Medical treatments and technology can change at a frantic pace and you don’t want to be left on an old and outdated plan that doesn’t provide adequate cover for modern day medical needs or your changing health.

For example the most up-to-date plans will provide cover towards things such as the HPV vaccine, online doctors, genetic testing, sports-related injuries, home birthing, gender reassignment, and psychiatric and mental health treatment, which older plans may not.

So as well as overpaying, by not renewing and shopping around every year you could be left on a plan that’s not fit for your needs. 

3. What is the best way to compare policies and prices? 

The Health Insurance Authority offers a free and comprehensive comparison tool to help consumers compare health insurance policies.   

However health insurance is a very complex product. The right plan for you will depend on many different factors. And it can also be quite difficult for the average person to understand exactly what’s covered with every policy. If you’re not careful it’s very easy to over pay, or equally as worse, under pay and not be covered for the treatment you need.     

Treatments, consultant cover, the excess, and outpatient benefits can all differ wildly between plans. And health insurance plans are constantly being updated by insurers too.     

What’s more, getting the right info on corporate plans, which often offer the best value and which are legally open to everyone, can sometimes be tough.

There are independent health insurance experts who, for a small fee, can conduct an over-the-phone consultation with you and recommend an appropriate plan.  

Unfortunately us Irish don’t like paying for financial advice. But for a relatively small fee of €100 or €150, say, you could end up saving well over €300 or €400 a year on your health insurance. And you’ll get a plan that’s tailored to your own specific needs. So don't be afraid to check out these services too. 

4. What are the most important things to consider?

A. The correct level of cover

If you're someone who has high blood pressure or if you have a particular cardiac condition, focus on what benefits are provided for cardiac treatment in the different hospitals.

And check what hospitals are covered on the policy. Not all hospitals are covered on all plans and this can change year to year.

Also, there may be no point in paying for cover in a fancy hospital in Cork or Dublin if you live in Donegal, so think about what is of value to you.

B. The excess on your policy

An excess is the amount you volunteer to pay yourself in the event of a claim. Anything above this will be paid by your insurer.

The higher your excess, the lower your premium will be.

Be aware that some plans have an excess per claim, while others have an excess per night in hospital. So read the fine print carefully.

C. Your budget

The average cost of an adult policy is now around €1,600, which will generally give you semi-private cover in a private hospital.

D. Your children

If you have a family, you may not necessarily be best served with a family plan.

Everyone is priced individually so you should look at everybody’s needs - your children might need better GP cover while you may need better cardiac cover.

Parents and children can be on different plans but on the same policy, or might be better served with different insurance providers, so you’ll have different policy numbers but the renewal date will be the same.

E. The potential savings

Be wary of saving €100 on your policy if it means you lose access to high-tech hospitals or particular treatments or benefits if these are important to you.

And watch out for changes to your excess.

5. How much can I save by switching? 

It all depends on the policy you have.

But a single person could potentially save a few hundred euro. While a family could save over €500 a year.

But when it comes to insurance; it’s not just about price. Sometimes you might switch and pay the same price but end up with far better cover.    

6. Do I have to serve waiting periods again?

If you switch insurer you won’t have to serve any waiting periods again – as long as you switch within 13 weeks. 

This is not known by many people and is often a reason why people are afraid to switch.

And if you switch insurers while you are serving a new customer waiting period, the amount of time served with your first insurer will be taken into account with your new insurer.

And regardless of your current health or claims history, any new insurer must take you on - by law they cannot restrict you from cover. Unlike other forms of insurance, your previous claims record has no bearing on the price you pay or the options available to you. 

In short, everything you're accustomed to with your current provider will be available with a new provider.

7. Will my policy be more expensive if I cancel my insurance for a year or two?

The Irish private health insurance market is what's called ‘community rated’. This means everyone pays the same amount for the same level of cover regardless of their age, sex or health. But this can only work if there are lots of younger, healthier people buying insurance also to compensate for older, sicker patients. 

Since 2015 what’s called Lifetime Community Rating has applied to all health insurance policies to encourage younger people to take out insurance sooner.

This means that if you’re over the age of 34 and take out insurance for the very first time, a 2% loading will apply to your premium for every year you don’t have private health insurance.

So under this system, a 40-year-old who purchases health insurance for the first time today will have a 12% loading applied to their policy but a 40-year-old who has had insurance since he or she was 34 or younger won't.

However, if you're over 34 and cancel your health insurance and do not take out a new policy within 13 weeks, you may be hit with a loading when you reapply.

Get in touch

We hope this guide answered all your switching questions. However if you have any that are still unanswered, we’d be happy to help!

Comment below or reach out to us on our social media channels.