1,250 customers a week quitting health insurance
FEAR: Premium hikes to pile on the pressure
SOME 65,000 people abandoned their private health insurance last year.
The number who left was double that of 2010, putting further pressure on the ailing public health system.
Figures from the Health Insurance Authority show that more than 1,000 people gave up their policies for every week of last year.
And from next month, thousands more will have no choice but to abandon their plans as all health insurers plan significant increases.
This means that the price of premiums will be pushed up to make up the shortfall and the already struggling public system will be creaking at the seams.
Health insurance is clearly not being viewed as a priority by many who face unemployment and grapple with their unbalanced household budgets.
The number of people in the health insurance market stood at 2.29m in 2008 but now only 2.16m have kept up their policies, a loss of 134,000 customers in the space of three years.
However, although the rate of decline doubled last year, the figures show that consumers are being more proactive in looking for value.
A significant number of individuals have opted to reduce their plans and downgrade policies in an attempt to cut costs.
All three major insurers have plans to push up the price of their plans in March, so consumers have been urged to make key changes that could save money.
Although family plans have been hit, there can be savings made by combining some of the special adult rates that are still available and taking the advantage of the free cover offers for children.
And there are even further headaches on the horizon as the Government plans to charge health insurers every time a person with cover uses an accident and emergency unit in a public hospital.
Legislation is to be introduced later this year to bring in this new system, which will cost insurers around €143m.
This change in the rules could send prices shooting up by at least 15pc -- the VHI has already warned that it could impose a 50pc increase due to the change.
But they are not alone -- Aviva's health plans are increasing by 15pc this month. This will be the third rise in just over a year.
And Quinn Insurance plans will go up by 6pc next month which is just weeks after hikes that took effect last month.
Dermot Goode of healthinsurancesavings.ie said that he anticipates an additional 100,000 consumers to drop out of their health insurance throughout the course of 2012.
Mr Goode advised all customers to review their cover before each renewal as there were still good deals available.