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Labour calls for legal challenge to VHI hikes

The Equality Authority could appeal the hikes, Labour says, as Active Retirement Ireland attacks the portrayal of older people.

Image: jenny downing via Flickr

Updated, 16.56

THE EQUALITY AUTHORITY could launch a legal challenge against VHI’s proposals to increase the health insurance premiums of older people on the basis of age discrimination, a Labour Party senator has claimed.

Senator Phil Prengergast said the fact that the plans more commonly used by older people were rising in price by up to 45%, while the average family plan was being increased by a comparatively low 15%.

“Insurance policies cannot, by law, include additional premium weighting on age grounds,” Prendergast said, “but by singling out policies mainly bought by older people, VHI is in danger of engaging in indirect – and possibly direct – direct discrimination.

Prendergast said VHI was targeting those who had already contributed the most to its services, saying it was “shocking that many costumers who have been with VHI for decades are going to pay even more… when they are most likely to need it.”

This afternoon a VHI spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that the government was responsible for deciding on the levels of tax credits necessary to provide medical support for older people.

“As long as the tax credits do not deal effectively with the losses produced by older customers, VHI must [...] increase its prices much more than it wishes to, or than VHI thinks is fair to any of its customers,” the spokeswoman said.

Eamon Timmins, of Age Action Ireland, said his charity had received hundreds of calls from older people who were “very, very angry” about yesterday’s price increases.

“We’ve had people who have been paying into the VHI for 40 years or more, who have been loyal customers and who didn’t see the need to wander when other providers entered the market, who are now seeing – for their loyalties – they’re being penalised.”

Timmins warned of a further influx of patients into the public health system – which already this week had seen record numbers of patients waiting on trolleys – if older people were unable to afford private healthcare.

Earlier, Active Retirement Ireland condemned the new increases, with chief executive Maureen Kavanagh saying it was “disheartening to see older people being portrayed as an ever-increasing burden on Ireland’s health system.”

Kavanagh said her body did not accept the view that older people would become a greater burden for the health services as they continued to live for longer, and said society needed to find ways of helping older people to live independently and healthily.

VHI has been subsidised by Quinn Healthcare and Aviva, in their earlier guises of BUPA and Hibernian, since a Supreme Court ruling in 2008 which forced the private operators to compensate the state-owned body for its older age profile.

Full details of the VHI increases >

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Gavan Reilly

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