The private health insurance market remained relatively stable in 2019, with almost half of the population having some form of cover, the Health Insurance Authority (HIA) has said.
The HIA is the statutory regulator of the private health insurance market and its role is to ensure consumers are aware of their rights, and that insurers know their responsibilities, in relation to health insurance in Ireland.
It has just published its 2019 Annual Report, which shows that the private health insurance market increased by 2.5% last year to 2.27 million people - that is 46% of the population.
The report noted that the number of insured people has risen every year since 2014, which it says, reflects market stability and Ireland's growing economy. However, it noted that the impact of COVID-19 on the health insurance market has yet to be quantified and the outlook for the sector and for consumers is uncertain.
The total premium income for private health insurers last year was €2.72 billion, an increase of 1.4% on 2018's figure. Premiums per person fell by an average of 0.8% last year and in 2018.
Total claims paid out last year by the three main insurers - VHI, Laya and Irish Life Health - amounted to €2.24 billion.
"The health insurance market remained relatively stable over the course of 2019. Some 46% of the population have some form of health insurance cover, making it the largest non-life insurance market in Ireland.
"Numbers insured in December 2019 were 2.5% higher than 12 months previously, with demand rising against the backdrop of a growing economy," noted HIA chief executive, Don Gallagher.
He pointed out that a survey commissioned in October 2019 found that satisfaction with health insurance companies remains relatively high. However, with over 300 health insurance products being marketed at the end of 2019, "the complexity for consumers remains high".
The main reasons cited by consumers for having health insurance were the cost of medical treatment, along with the perceived standard of, and perceived lack of access to, public services. A majority of those surveyed in October 2019 believed that health insurance allows people to skip queues and to receive a better level of service.
Meanwhile, the report noted that the HIA received 2,790 queries last year, while its website received almost 450,000 visits, with many of these using the site's plan comparison facility.
In relation to COVID-19, Mr Gallagher said that it is unclear what the impact on the health insurance market will be.
"The combination of the health shock and economic shock as a result of COVID-19 could potentially result in people cancelling their health insurance for a variety of reasons in the short-to-medium term. A significant increase in cancellations at younger ages could potentially impact the sustainability and stability of a community-rated health insurance market.
"The authority's primary objective is to ensure access to private health insurance for all consumers regardless of age, gender or health status. We have established a Board Committee to consider the impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic may have on the health insurance market and on the Risk Equalisation Fund," he added.
For more information on the HIA, inclduing its plan comparison facility, click here. The 2019 Annual Report can be viewed here.
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