Almost 46% of the population now has private health insurance, the latest figures from the Health Insurance Authority (HIA) have shown.
According to the HIA, at the end of March 2016, 2.126 million people had inpatient health insurance plans - that is 45.9% of the population. At its peak in 2008, just over 50.9% of the population had private insurance.
March's figures mark an increase of 4,000 people when compared to the end of December 2015, and an increase of 95,000 people when compared with March 2015.
The HIA noted that the introduction of Lifetime Community Rating (LCR) in May 2015 led to a big increase in the number of people taking out insurance early last year.
The idea behind LCR is that it depends on the ongoing entry of younger people to the insurance market, as they tend to claim less on their policies, which keeps premiums down for everybody.
LCR came into operation in Ireland on May 1, 2015, and it introduced a permanent age-related loading of 2% per year on anyone over the age of 34. This means that, for example, if a 54-year-old decided to take out private health insurance for the first time today, they would face a loading of 40% added to their premium every single year that they remain insured.
The maximum loading is 70% and this applies to people aged 69 and older who take out insurance for the first time.
Meanwhile, the HIA also noted that the average cost of private health insurance premiums fell by 2.2% between 2014 and 2015. In 2014, it was around €1,200 per person and the following year, it was €1,173 per person.
The HIA said that the total claims paid out by the four private health insurers in 2015 amounted to €1.979 billion, an increase of 9% when compared with 2014.
Speaking about the figures, HIA chief executive, Don Gallagher, said that the private health insurance market ‘remains as dynamic as ever, with insurers competing and introducing new products at a range of price levels and cover options'.
"There is value to be had but consumers need to actively consider what cover they want and be prepared to switch insurers to get cover at the right price. The HIA website has details of every health insurance product on the market and a useful comparison tool to compare products from different providers," he explained.
He advised anyone who has not looked at their health insurance plan in the last two to three years, to shop around to ensure that they are getting ‘the best value available in the market for the level of cover they want'.
The HIA website can be viewed here
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