How to make health insurance cheaper

Having the right health cover helps you get on with life but can be pricey. Here’s how to tap into the medical services you need for less.

How health insurance works

Health insurance can help pay for medical treatment, including hospital visits and stays when you’re ill or injure yourself.

In Ireland, you’re protected by a Lifetime Cover scheme that allows you to buy and renew your health cover, regardless of your age, gender or health status.

Can you get free healthcare in Ireland?

If you’re an Irish resident with a low income, you can apply for a medical card that gives you free access to a range of medical services, including:

You also only have to pay a small charge for prescriptions.

Don’t qualify for a medical card? You may be eligible for a GP visit card which gets you free access to GP services; children under six automatically qualify.

Types of healthcare plans

There are three main types of plan to choose from and three cover levels:

  1. Inpatient hospital cover These plans cover inpatient hospital costs, including day patient care and overnight stays. It can pay in full or part for tests, treatment, surgery and hospital accommodation.
  2. Outpatient cover These plans can cover treatment from a GP, consultant or specialist care, e.g. physiotherapy.
  3. Cash plans These plans pay out a set amount for a huge range of medical expenses but don’t cover inpatient costs.

info icon It’s possible to take out separate inpatient and outpatient cover or buy a packaged plan that offers an amount of cover for both.

Cover levels

  1. Level 1 cover Is the most basic and offers care in public hospitals.
  2. Level 2 cover Offers care in private hospitals but a semi-private room.
  3. Level 3 cover Offers care in private hospitals in a private room.

If you want to be treated at a top of the range hospital like The Blackrock Clinic, you’ll need to look for a high-level plan that lists it.

When does the cover kick in?

It depends. If it’s your first health insurance plan or it’s been over 13 weeks since your last policy ended, a waiting period may apply.

What are the waiting periods?

Whoever you decide to buy your health insurance from, these are the maximum waiting periods for new customers:

Cover for Max waiting period
Accidents and injuries Immediate cover
New condition 26 weeks
Pre-existing condition* 5 years
Maternity claims 52 weeks

*A pre-existing condition is an illness or a medical condition you had within six months of taking out your healthcare plan.

If you’re switching to a new insurer, any waiting periods (in part or full) you’ve already served will carry forward.

When should you get cover?

The earlier, the better because of the Lifetime Community Rating, which recognises younger people tend to make fewer claims.

If you wait until you’re 35 or older, you’ll have to pay a premium known as loading.

This means paying an extra 2% on your health insurance premium for every year over 34 you are.

For example, if you take out your first plan at 40, you’ll pay an extra 12% each year, for a maximum of 10 years.

If you had health cover previously but stopped your cover, insurers can consider this if you can provide proof.

How to compare health insurance

It’s tricky finding the right cover for your needs. Here are some pointers to consider:

Check that there’s enough outpatient cover for your needs, as this is often somewhat limited.

info icon Make sure there are plenty of services close to where you live that are included in the plan.

How much does health insurance cost?

There are a tonne of factors that affect how much you’ll pay, so you’ll need to get a personalised quote.

A basic cash plan could be as little as €12 a month, while an all singing all dancing fully comp plan could cost an eye-watering €753 a month!

The key is picking the right benefits for your circumstances, so you’re not paying more than you need to.

If you’re a bit strapped for cash, it could still be worth having a basic plan to avoid the hefty loading charges you’ll get hit with if you wait until you’re 35 or above.

How to make it cheaper

Here are some ways of cutting the cost down:

What about the excess?

The excess is the amount you’ll pay per claim, and you can choose the level it’s set at.

The lower the excess, the more you’ll pay for the plan, but a higher excess means paying more when you claim.

Do you really need health cover?

If you can’t get a medical card and don’t have health insurance, charges are capped if you need medical assistance.

So, you may prefer to pay for the care you need as you go if it’s an affordable option for you.

For example, inpatient hospital services cost €80 a day or €800 max in a 12-month rolling period, for any number of public hospital admissions.

This covers all procedures needed in that time, including follow up outpatient treatment.

info icon However, without private health insurance, you may not be seen or treated as quickly.

Health Insurance FAQs

Can I get tax relief on my health insurance?

Yes, it’s your insurer that grants tax relief on your private health cover at source.

What’s a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)?

An EHIC is free to apply for and can cover medical bills if you fall ill or are injured while visiting another European country.

Who is the Health Insurance Authority (HIA)?

The HIA is the private health insurance regulator in Ireland. They can help you understand your rights and offer information on different health care plans and benefits.

Can I switch to another health insurer?

Yes, absolutely. It’s best to wait until your plan’s up for renewal to avoid any early exit fees unless your provider allows you to switch mid-way through penalty-free.