Consumers encouraged to consider options as health insurance policies come up for renewal

07 December 2016 Press Release

• 45% of health insurance policies will be up for renewal between December and early 2017
• Many policies automatically renew on to same policy if a consumer does not contact his or her insurer prior to renewal date
• Central Bank research indicates that 85% of consumers renewed the same policy, with the same provider at last renewal

The Central Bank today reminded consumers who are due to renew their health insurance cover over the coming months to be aware of the ‘auto-renewal’ process and also encouraged consumers to make contact with their insurance providers to ensure that they are being offered the most suitable cover available to meet their individual needs and circumstances.

The results of a themed inspection on health insurance renewals carried out by the Central Bank earlier this year found that renewal notices issued by health insurance providers were not highlighting important information for consumers, and that providers should be doing more to ensure that they are providing the most suitable health insurance policy, particularly when consumers are purchasing cover on-line.

Following the themed inspection, the Central Bank required health insurance providers to make a number of changes to their renewal processes, particularly in relation to the information they provide to consumers in policy renewal notices. Health insurance providers must now:

• Clearly explain to consumers that their policy will automatically renew on to the same policy if they do not contact the insurance provider prior to their renewal date, and
• Take steps to encourage consumers to make contact during the renewal process, to ensure the insurance provider assesses if there are more suitable policies available.

In addition, health insurance providers have been required by the Central Bank to include all of their health insurance plans on their websites, thereby assisting consumers to choose a plan that is suitable to their needs.

45% of all health insurance plans will be due for renewal during the months of December, January and February. With this in mind, Director of Consumer Protection, Bernard Sheridan, said: “Over the next few months, thousands of consumers will receive annual renewal notices from their health insurance providers. The Central Bank’s recent review of the Irish health insurance market indicated that only one quarter of consumers were in contact with their insurance provider or broker during the renewal process and 85% of consumers renewed the same policy with the same provider. Therefore, I would encourage consumers to consider all of their options when they receive their renewal letters, and, where consumers decide to renew their policy with the same insurance provider, to make contact with the provider or broker to ensure they are being offered the most suitable cover”.

Consumers are entitled to ask their insurance provider or broker to undertake a review of their current health insurance cover to see if there is a more suitable plan available to meet their individual circumstances.

Note to Editor

The Central Bank became responsible for the regulation of all health insurance providers in Ireland for the first time in June 2015.

The Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Outlook Report 2016 identified health insurance as a priority theme. The Central Bank carried out a themed inspection of Ireland’s health insurance providers, which was supported by consumer research – the relevant press release issued on 11 March 2016 is available here.

The themed inspection found that annual renewal notices did not provide sufficient information to consumers in order to enable them to make informed decisions about their health insurance cover. The level of care offered also differed by sales channel. The Central Bank therefore required health insurance providers to implement a number of additional protections (outlined above) for consumers when renewing their health insurance policies.