By Kevin O’Neill
The news that private hospitals are to be opened for public use during the Covid-19 outbreak has been broadly welcomed.
It has, though, prompted questions about what impact it will have for health insurance customers.
At the end of December 2019, there were 2.2 million people covered by health insurance plans, according to the Health Insurance Authority.
Should these people keep paying their premiums? What are they paying for? Can they expect refunds? What happens if they need care for something unrelated to the virus?
The answers to these are not yet clear. Meetings will take place between insurers, the HSE and the government this week to answer some key questions.
There is no clarity on the health insurance levy of approximately €450 per customer, which is paid to Revenue, and there are still questions about billing private patients admitted to public hospitals for non-virus matters.
Once these are clarified, health insurers can better understand their exposure and figure out what they can do in terms of price cuts, refunds and cover, leading health insurance consultant Dermot Goode said.
“It could be later this week or even next week before further specifics are available,” he said.
Mr Goode, of TotalHealthCover.ie, advised any premium holders experiencing financial difficulties to contact their insurance provider, though.
“There may be short-term options available to them to reduce their costs but still remain insured,” he said.
The status of private MRI clinics and existing private patient appointments is also unclear.
The private health insurers have reached out to policyholders but have been unable to provide much clarity.
Laya managing director Dónal Clancy confirmed they “will look after everyone” but could not outline the exact details of any measure of financial support.
“We plan to introduce a measure of financial support for all our members on private healthcare schemes… Before we can commit to the exact details of any measure of financial support, we have some critical details around our claims costs we need to work out carefully,” he said.
VHI made similar remarks.
A spokesperson said: “Once we have clarity on the matter we will be in a better position to assess the impact for our customers.”