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People advised not to make changes to health insurance as Covid-19 deal is arranged with private hospitals

Private hospitals will act as part of the public health system for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, but the exact details are yet to be confirmed.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/ESB Professional

AN INSURANCE EXPERT has advised people with private health insurance not to make any immediate changes to their policies on foot of the government’s announcement that private hospitals will act as part the public health system for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic.

The plans were announced by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday as part of a range of measures to tackle the Covid-19 crisis.

Concerns have been raised about how the hospital plans, the details of which are yet to be finalised, could impact patients with private health insurance.

Dermot Goode, a health insurance expert at Total Health Cover, said he understands why patients are worried but that insurance companies can’t give them any answers until the exact details of the measures and related legislation are finalised.

“The challenge is that the legislation hasn’t gone through yet. Everyone is asking the insurance companies questions – the challenge for them right now is they’ve no facts yet on what the lay of the land is going to be, they don’t know yet exactly what this new legislation means,” Goode told TheJournal.ie

Goode said companies can’t give answers to customers about any potential changes to policies or coverage until they get clarity on the claims they will receive during the pandemic period.

He advised people to not make any immediate changes to their health insurance policies. He said “when we get out the other side of this” there will likely be “an unbelievable backlog” due to the number of non-essential procedures and surgeries being postponed as hospitals focus on providing essential care and tackling Covid-19.

“At the end of all this, people getting non-essential surgery and diagnostics done will be using private health insurance to get it done quickly. If it was up to me, I would not be making any changes to my coverage for now,” Goode said.

He added that he believes insurance companies want to play their part in responding to the pandemic, but want an industry-wide rather than company-specific approach.

‘Constructive role’ 

Gerry Hassett, interim CEO of industry body Insurance Ireland, said private health insurers “will work with the government and the private hospitals to play a constructive role in supporting the public system during this crisis”.

“It is understood that the health insurance consultative forum will be meeting shortly to discuss the implementation of these necessary steps.”

In a statement, the Private Hospitals Association (PHA) said it is “collaborating with the HSE in respect of the Covid-19 outbreak and fully supports all strategic measures currently under consideration aimed at combating this pandemic”.

“Discussions are continuing on arrangements to allow the State to contract for a temporary period, the country’s private hospital bed capacity as well as the services of clinicians and health care professionals working in the private hospital system, as a critical next step in managing the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The precise detail of the HSE plan is still being discussed and we would hope to finalise this in the coming days.”

There are more than 2,000 beds and thousands of employees in 19 private hospitals around Ireland.

When asked for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “Very constructive engagement with the private hospital sector is ongoing and we hope to finalise the details in the coming days.”

Speaking at yesterday’s press conference, Health Minister Simon Harris said “there can be no room for public versus private” when responding to the Covid-19 crisis.

“We must of course have equality of treatment, patients with this virus will be treated for free, and they’ll be treated as part of a single, national hospital service.

“For the duration of this crisis the State will take control of all private hospital facilities and manage all of the resources for the common benefit of all of our people. There can be no room for public versus private when it comes to pandemic,” Harris said.

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Órla Ryan

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