Curing health insurance confusion

Podcast Ep 62: ThinkBusiness talks to Barbara Sheahan, founder of Dublin-based Healthcare Compare, Ireland’s newest healthcare insurance comparison portal.

Last year Sheahan launched the new platform which aims to remove the confusion and overpaying associated with health insurance plans.

The Healthcare Compare platform helps users identify the most suitable healthcare plan to suit their requirements and budgets through its advanced comparison tools and advice from health insurance specialists.

“We felt there was a massive gap where people really don’t understand health insurance, they don’t understand what benefits are needed, they don’t understand why they need it and what age they need it”

According to the HIA, almost 2.3m Irish people currently have health insurance policies, with over 320 insurance providers on the market. Further research has revealed an inertia or fear when it comes to changing providers.

According to recent figures from the ESRI, 14pc of Irish people claim it is difficult to switch insurers, with 11pc saying it involves unnecessary time and work. It was also found that 7.2pc of people said they failed to change providers due to difficulty comparing plans.

Navigating health cover plans


“We felt there was a massive gap where people really don’t understand health insurance, they don’t understand what benefits are needed, they don’t understand why they need it and what age they need it.

“We’re trying to build awareness around why it’s important and what age you need to get on the market,” Sheahan explained.

Given the past year of pandemic and the ongoing vaccination programme, Sheahan said that health is at the forefront of a lot of people’s minds, especially with the constraints on the health system at present.

“That’s why I think it is important than ever for people to be investigating health insurance if they don’t have it at the moment.”

For most people navigating the Byzantine and confusing health insurance market is difficult. Sheahan recommends that people try to start their policies earlier in life, especially to avoid the loadings that providers will attach to policies.

“When you’re in your 20s, I know we all think we’re invincible when we’re that age. But unfortunately young people get sick too and there are young adult rates for anybody between 18 and 25, so it is affordable.”

Changes to the health insurance system in 2015 around lifetime community ratings have made the onus on establishing health insurance earlier in life all the more acute.

According to the HIA, lifetime community rating is a system whereby the premium that individuals pay for health insurance rises with the age they enter the private health insurance market, but does not vary in relation to their current age. Under this system, a 50-year-old who has held insurance since he or she was 30 would pay the same as a 30-year-old, but a 50-year-old who purchases insurance for the first time would pay more than a 30-year-old. The bad news is for people over 40 who will have to pay a loading of typically 12pc a year on top of their premium.

“These loadings last for 10 years and can be very substantial,” Sheahan warned.

“There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to health insurance. The corporate plans are the best value and were basically plans that were created for employees of companies like Google or Facebook where insurers are competing against each other to get these clients onto their books and so they introduced competitively priced plans. Often, they have strong inpatient and day-to-day cover.”

Sheahan said that when navigating the maze of plans a good rule of thumb would be to aim for plans that have an excess of no more than €200 per stay in a private hospital and allow customers to claim back 50pc of the cost of a GP visit and 50pc of the cost of a consultant’s visit.

Just like with car insurance, Sheahan says customers should shop around every year. “I have people coming to me who are on the same plan for three, four or five years and they are outdated plans, whereas newer corporate version of the same plans offers the same, if not better cover and they could be literally saving €1,000 a year in some cases.”

When looking at switching plans, she says buyers should be asking what they are gaining or losing by changing plans.

Her Healthcare Compare portal enables consumers to choose the right insurance premium for them through conducting a full review of their insurance wants and needs. It allows people shopping around for health insurance to review policies and look at the benefits on offer, including cover for cardiac, maternity, fertility and more.

“We don’t give the plan or company names because we always need to speak someone to help identify the right plan that’s important for their needs.”

She said that while some people may see medical insurance as an additional cost burden, the difference is really down to when you need it.

Sheahan concluded by pointing out that people only really see the value of health insurance when they have to use it.

“My own mum and dad would go without a car before they’d go without health insurance. Health insurance is only expensive if you never use it, and if you are lucky enough to own it but never use it, you are also good.”

By John Kennedy (

Published: 3 June 2021