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Covid-19: Here's five tips on protecting your health insurance if you've been laid off

One of the country's leading health insurance experts has issued advice for anyone who wants to keep their health insurance cover but has been hit financially by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Thousands of people throughout the country have temporarily lost their jobs, taken pay cuts or unpaid leave on the back of the coronavirus emergency.

Health insurance experts TotalHealthCover.ie have advice for anyone concerned about protecting their cover while managing their costs with a reduced income, notwithstanding any initiatives that may or may not be forthcoming from the health insurers.

Dermot Goode, an expert with TotalHealthCover.ie, said there are ways for people to do so in the reduced circumstances.

He said: “The latest Government initiative to pay up to 70% of salaries to eligible employees is welcome, but thousands of households are still going to struggle financially and as such, are looking at ways through which they can cut household expenditure.

"Our experience over the last few weeks is that most health insurance members don’t want to cancel cover, but they need to reduce their costs quickly until they’re back to full-time employment.

"We are advising them that it is possible to retain cover while cutting costs.”

Experts at TotalHealthCover.ie advise that Irish Life Health and Laya Healthcare have always allowed their customers to revise their cover mid-year, if necessary, without penalty, and they expect that VHI will be equally flexible for any ‘distressed customers’ who have been temporarily laid-off or are facing reducing income.

TotalHealthCover.ie have outlined their top tips for anyone struggling with affordability:

1. Those renewing in the next 2-3 months, should review all equivalent options to see if they can secure a better deal in the market. People on the same plan for 3 years or more, or who aren’t on a ‘corporate’ plan, savings in the region of €300 per adult or more may be achievable;

2. Members on dated cover i.e. a plan that’s on the market for 7-10 years or more, could possibly make significant savings of up to €750 - €1,000 per adult. This would especially apply to members on the likes of VHI Health Plus schemes, Laya Flex 125 schemes and Irish Life Health Level 2 Hospital schemes;

3. Other cost-reductions tactics include the following;

- take on an excess if you don’t already have one on the policy. In return for a small excess of possibly €75 per claim in private hospitals only, members could reduce their costs by €500 - €1,000 per adult, depending on the plan held;

- if you have a small excess already on the policy, see if you can increase this to a higher limit in exchange for a lower premium, e.g. the following plans offer good mid-level cover but with an excess of €200 - €300 per claim; Irish Life Health Benefit Plan at €965; VHI One Plan 250 @ €926 and Laya’s Essential Health 300 at €997 per adult.

Further savings might be possible by increasing the excess to €500 - €600 per claim;

- opt for semi-private cover instead of private cover in private hospitals which could reduce your costs by €400 or more per adult depending on the plan held;

- split your cover, i.e. place the younger members on the lowest cover possible, whilst keeping older or more vulnerable members on more comprehensive cover. For example, parents could place young children on the Irish Life Health Select Starter at €143; the VHI Public Plus Care at €134 per child or Laya’s Assure Protect at €151 per child;

- for those not incurring many out-patient expenses, consider removing the day-to-day cover. This tactic could save members up to €200 per adult depending on the plan held;

- for those on the high-tech plans costing approx. €3,500 per adult, consider reducing to a lower-level corporate plan, some of which are half the cost of the current plan.

4. For those who need to drastically reduce their costs to the bare minimum, we suggest the following;

- consider reducing to the ‘entry-level’ plans temporarily, with a view to upgrading cover again when possible, i.e. VHI PublicPlus Care (€489), Laya Assure Protect (€495), Irish Life Health Select Starter (€505);

- whilst not ideal, you may have to consider cancelling cover for those members on the policy who represent the lowest risk, but this would be a last resort after all other measures have been considered first.

5. Also, employers that are under pressure to continue funding healthcare benefits for staff should consider reviewing their cover mid-year to see if savings can be made in the short-term, without affecting any key components of cover.

Mr Goode said: “For those who are worried about making changes or the possible impact this may have on their claims or benefits, we recommend that they seek independent advice, or that they contact their insurer before making any amendments.

"If at all possible, try to maintain continuity of cover, as access to private care could be essential when this crisis is over for those who need quick access to elective medical treatment”.

[ul][b]Useful information[/b] [li]The HSE have developed an information pack on how to protect yourself and others from coronavirus. Read it here [/li] [li]Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus who has been in close contact with a confirmed case in the last 14 days should isolate themselves from other people - this means going into a different, well-ventilated room alone, with a phone; phone their GP, or emergency department;[/li] [li]GPs Out of Hours services are not in a position to order testing for patients with normal cold and flu-like symptoms. HSELive is an information line and similarly not in a position to order testing for members of the public. The public is asked to reserve 112/999 for medical emergencies at all times.[/li] [li]ALONE has launched a national support line and additional supports for older people who have concerns or are facing difficulties relating to the outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in Ireland. The support line will be open seven days a week, 8am-8pm, by calling 0818 222 024[/li] [/ul]