Consumer Champion: Time is ticking away for those over-34s who want to avoid the insurance levy
With the Government's dreams of Universal Health Insurance floating away, for a few years at least, more people will be relying on the public system, or forced to take out private cover.
Well, the enforcement just got tougher. Health Minister, Leo Varadkar (inset) has warned that if you're over 34 and leave it until after April 30- less than eight weeks away - it's going to cost a lot more. Leo proudly posted his birth certificate on twitter recently, revealing he's 36, so let's hope his own insurance is in place!
For everyone else, there will be an annual 2pc 'loading fee'. Laya's recent survey showed only 2pc of people were aware of this and just 4pc understood it.
It matches research from the Health Insurance Authority - the State body which oversees the area - which says that cost of medical treatment and perceived lack of access to public services are the main reasons for taking out insurance - the Fear Factor, if you like.
While four in 10 of us have private cover, they're mainly from higher socio-economic backgrounds, as it is expensive, even with the new 'yellow-pack' plans launched by insurers recently (see table).
Launching this month, and starting at around €400, they essentially just cover a stay in public hospital. No fancy consultants' fees; no posh maternity units and you can forget most out-patient cover. Still, they're better than nothing, and if you are dithering over cover, you should take one of these - you can always upgrade later - and avoid the levy.
Do compare carefully though - in some cases, only certain public hospitals will be covered by some of them. Others don't cover orthopaedic units.
The loading for older people will be significant: For a 50 year-old taking out cover for the first time, it means a 32pc extra premium (16 years over age 34 x 2pc p.a.), compared to someone of the same age already covered. This hike stays with them for life.
If you've had cover and unemployment forced you to cancel, there will be a credit given toward this.
Health insurance is a community-rated product. This means nobody can be refused it and (technically at least), everyone pays the same, irrespective of age or health.
But without enough younger, healthier people in the pool, older, sicker people couldn't afford it, hence the stick approach.
A total of 2,2025,258 people have an in-patient hospital plan from one of the four providers: VHI, Laya, Glo or Aviva. This has fallen alarmingly at the rate of 5,000 per month over the last few years, for cost reasons.
Here are the things to consider before deciding on a plan:
l Budget - the most important factor. How much can you afford? Hop onto the HIA comparison website to choose a plan (www.hia.ie).
l Needs - access to private hospitals (e.g. Blackrock Clinic or the Beacon) will seriously affect your premium. Limiting cover to public hospitals allows you to jump the treatment queue, but you'll most likely be on a ward (or 'multiple-occupancy' rooms).
l Excess - the first amount you pay of any claim. The higher it is, the lower the premium, but you'll take the risk. The clock is ticking.
Check it out now before it's too late.
Avoid a testing time with an NCT
Fancy getting up at 4am to have your car tested? No, me neither, which is why I'm booking mine in in good time to avoid the queues.
Not having a valid NCT certificate can now get you three penalty points and an on-the-spot fine. Due to more second-hand cars being on the streets, thanks to the recession and our penchant for buying them in the first three months of the year, test centres are full to the gills, so much so that two in Dublin - North Point and Deansgrange, are now open 24 hours a day to meet demand.
Here's how to avoid the red-eye call:
Book your car up to 90 days in advance of the cert expiring: the new one won't start until it is due, so there's no loss.
Tests cost €55 and €28 for a re-test. You forfeit €22 if you fail to show up or cancel within five days of the due date.
Always bring ID with you - passport or driving licence; it's to prevent fraud.
You will no longer get a notice advising your NCT is due - it's up to you to remember. But the NCT site (www.ncts.ie) will send you an email in good time if you enter your car registration number and it will also tell you when the test is due.
Book online for your test directly - never use a website which isn't official - they may take your credit card details and scam them.
Deadline is looming to pay the Local Property Tax property tax
The final date for payment of Local Property Tax via a single debit authority is next Saturday. This is the date the payment will actually leave your current account, for those who opted to pay their tax as a once-off amount.
Bear in mind, that it could go out this Friday, March 20 to facilitate banks, so do make sure that the correct amount is in your account by then.
Failure to pay the property tax could result in penalties or withholding of tax clearance certificates, but the good news is that 11 local authorities reduced the amount payable this year, including four in Dublin: Dublin City, South Dublin, Fingal and Dunlaoghaire-Rathdown.
Last year, it took Revenue a few days to collect all of the money, so it's best to make sure you don't inadvertently spend it if it hasn't disappeared over the weekend!
You can always opt to change the payment terms for 2016 by letting Revenue know over the summer.