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A reader complains to VHI: If the new policy has the same benefits, why charge €284 more?

‘After a 20-minute call I was none the wiser and this was with a senior manager,’ the reader complains

Last month, VHI Healthcare – the State’s largest and oldest private health insurer – announced that it was retiring several of its most popular and oldest plans. The HealthPlus plans, some of which had their roots in the old Plan B plan offered by the company, were held by as many as 10 per cent of its customers, meaning that more than 130,000 people were impacted and at least some of those customers were not happy with the change.

One of them was a reader called Damien, who contacted us to express his displeasure.

He has been with the company for 40 years or so and “was shocked to hear the news of the VHI’s decision to arbitrarily withdraw this policy and ‘migrate’ my wife and I to the AdvancedCare Extra Day to Day policy,” he writes.

He rang the company’s support line to convey his displeasure at the move and the fact that he had learned of it “by way of a media press release and that they did not have the courtesy to directly inform me as a member of the VHI and therefore a shareholder”.

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He says that the first person he spoke to “said there was nothing to worry about that as I had renewed my plan on March 1st [and] would not be migrating to the new plan until my next renewal in 2025. When I asked what were the benefits of the new policy I was told by the operator that these details would be sent in February 2025, a month before renewal. I told the operator this was not acceptable and asked to be put through to a manager.”

Damien says he was connected “with reluctance” to a more senior person but was given “the same spiel until I pointed out that I was entitled to have been informed of the VHI decision directly. She said there was nothing to worry about as it was the exact same benefits in the new plan as my current plan. I then asked her what was going to be the cost of the new plan. She said she couldn’t tell me the cost as my renewal was in 2025 and she couldn’t tell me what the cost would be at that time.”

This did not make our reader feel better and he pointed out that the plan he would be migrating to was already on the market so he asked how much it cost now.

“She further hesitated and it was here I began to smell a rat so I persisted until she eventually told me it is currently €7,085 per annum [for a couple]. I pointed out to her that she had previously told me it had the exact same benefits as my current plan so I asked her why then was I going to be charged an extra €284 if I migrated to that new policy. She couldn’t give me an answer but did agree to send me the table of benefits for the plan. I told her that I was very unhappy with the responses I was getting and requested a call from a member of senior management to discuss.”

Damien says that the two calls he had already made had taken 30 minutes. The VHI staff member was as good as her word and a table of benefits duly arrived.

“On the following morning I got a call from a manager who said she was aware that I was not happy with the VHI decision to migrate me to a new, more expensive policy. I asked her when did the management make this decision and was the policy change known before March 1st, when I had renewed my policy.”

He says he was told it had been “and therefore she was arranging for my ‘cooling-off period’ to be extended to April 26th, so that if I decided to cancel the policy at that point there would be no penalties ensuing. She would not confirm when exactly the decision had been made regarding the migration. I told her that, when I got the table of benefits for the new plan and compared it to the table of benefits for my current plan, there were only minor differences yet the new policy plan was going to cost more and why was this? She didn’t answer.”

Damien points out that the cost of his current plan has increased by 31 per cent since 2021 and if he is moved to the new policy plan it would be increasing by a further 4 per cent. Assuming there will no more price increases between now and his renewal date next March, the total jump in the price for the same cover will be 35 per cent.

He notes that the rate of inflation for that period was about 4 per cent and he asked the VHI rep how could the company justify such a hike.

“No coherent answer was given other than Covid and treatment delays and increased charges by service providers,” he says. “There was no mention of the VHIs’ massive capital investment in building state-of-the-art 360 Clinical Diagnostic Centres that really are only of real benefit to members in urban areas. Why they are getting involved in this is beyond me. After a 20-minute call I was none the wiser and this was with a senior manager.”

We sent Damien’s perspective on the recent moves from the VHI to the VHI and a spokeswoman tackled at least some of the points he raised, starting with the manner in which the story had been shared with VHI members.

She said the company had made the decision to “communicate directly with members impacted by these changes and are doing so on a renewal-by-renewal basis. One month prior to a member’s renewal date, we send a letter outlining the changes, proposing a suitable replacement plan and explaining any adjustments to benefits.”

She said the VHI’s goal “is to ensure that our members have ample time to review these changes and explore their options. We encourage members to contact us directly if they would like to discuss their needs, cover options, or explore alternative plans.”

It did not issue a news release to the newspapers about the changes.

According to the spokeswoman, the current cost of HealthPlus Extra is €3,400 and the price of AdvancedCare Extra with day-to-day is €3,542. The cost of Health Plus Access Today is €2,573 and the price of AdvancedCare day-to-day is €2,563.

“We do understand that members may be concerned about how and when their plans are changing and, rest assured, we will be in touch with them in advance of their renewal,” she said. “We are committed to providing support and guidance to our members. When their policy is due for renewal in 2025, we will reach out to them proactively and encourage them to contact us to discuss their options.”

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