In these days of lengthy public hospital waiting lists, health insurance seems to be high on many people’s list of priorities. That’s if the 2022 report by the Health Insurance Authority (HIA) is anything to go by – and it is. Right now, 47% of the population pays for health insurance cover each year. That’s 2.4 million people.

€1,488 was the average amount paid by Irish individual policyholders in 2022, but there’s since been a hike of around 4.5% by all three providers – Vhi, Laya and Irish Life Health – so now you’re talking an average of €1,555 after the €67 or so increase.

The report also showed that many over 65s may not be on the most cost effective policy so it could be time to sit up, do some research and consider switching.

What to do

Before you go trying to compare policies, it’s a good idea to sit down and make a list of what’s important to you when it comes to cover.

Some questions to ask yourself when choosing a policy are:

1 How much can I afford per month/year? Remember, your age will affect the price you pay and the cover you need.

2 Do I want a private or semi-private room when it comes to hospital accommodation? Ask yourself if you can stand sharing or would you be prepared to pay for extra cover that would give you a room to yourself?

3 Have a preference for a particular hospital or consultant? If so, check that the policy you’re looking at covers that hospital or the hospital your favoured consultant works in. Private health insurers in Ireland generally group Irish hospitals into three categories: public hospitals (ie hospitals that are funded by the State), private hospitals, higher level cover hospitals (eg The Blackrock Clinic, the Mater Private Hospital, and the Beacon Hospital). Cover for the latter is more expensive.

4 What benefits are most useful to me? Are you big into sport and anticipate needing regular physio? Planning a baby so maternity cover will be important in the future? Getting older and know that your dodgy hip may need replacing in a few years’ time?

Do you want therapies like acupuncture and osteopathy or psychiatric care covered on your policy? While no one can anticipate illness or accident, knowing you have cover can provide peace of mind.

You pick what’s important to you or that you think you are likely to need in the coming year and find a plan that suits. Want an online GP service as part of your cover too? Add that requirement to your list.

5 What amount of treatment costs am I prepared to pay myself? If you are prepared to pay part of the cost of in-hospital treatment yourself, your premium will be lower. If you don’t want to pay a share of the cost, eg one-third, you will have to choose a policy with no excess, that will cover the full cost of your treatment.

If you don’t want to pay to see a consultant (average €250 per consult) or for scans and diagnostic tests, you’ll pay a higher premium than you would if these weren’t covered. Some policies allow you to claim back some of these costs at the end of the year.

Compare prices for the cover you need

After considering all of the above, look at all the policies on offer that suit your circumstances. The big thing to do is to consider the differences between the products and decide whether the differences in benefits provided are worth the financial differences in premium.

Consider the health insurance needs of each family member too and consider different plans and levels of cover for each.

The useful tool for comparing prices and plans in Ireland is the HIA’s comparison website:

The Health Insurance Authority is a statutory regulator of the private health insurance market in Ireland and it informs consumers about their rights and the various health insurance plans and benefits. It can take time to do the comparison, but it’s worth it if you save some money.

Pay someone to do the research

If you find all the research a bit daunting, however, there are companies that will do the work for you – for a fee.

Regulated financial advisers charge around €150 to help you with your “shopping list”. You tell them, over the phone, what you want and they find the best price. The more organised you are with your list, the easier it will be to get a suggested plan quickly. There are 327 plans on the Irish market.

Of course, financial advisers may be paid a commission or sales incentive by the insurance company they represent or whose product they sell and they may get more commission or sales incentives from selling one product rather than another, but they must act in your best interest and must be able to show you – in writing – why they feel the policy/policies they are recommending is suitable for you.

These are the main companies providing that service in Ireland:






Don’t forget corporate plans

Corporate plans are plans created by insurers that are marketed to large organisations, but you are entitled to these plans regardless of whether or not you are a member of the group to whom it is being marketed, so do enquire about them.

In some cases, these plans may offer better value than those plans marketed towards individuals. An insurer cannot refuse to sell you any plan you request.

Switch on to switching

If you are thinking of switching to a different plan with your current provider or moving to another provider, be very aware of your renewal date and do all your research weeks beforehand. There is no penalty for switching insurers on your renewal date but if you switch insurers mid-term, the insurer may apply a cancellation fee.

You may be able to switch to a higher plan with your current provider during a 12-month contract term without penalty, but check with your provider. At present, Laya and Irish Life don’t charge for this.