VHI price rise another bitter pill

The grim realites of our financial predicament have become apparent as early as the first week of the new year.

The grim realites of our financial predicament have become apparent as early as the first week of the new year.

The tax measures introduced in December's budget have come into force, reducing everyone's take home pay; children's allowance has been cut and more is to follow.

And then to hit people's pockets even more, the VHI announces huge price increases.

Every announcement is costing people money. When the decisions were first made we knew they were going to be bad but the fateful day was a little way off. Now it has arrived and people are hurting.

Rising unemployment isn't helping. It will prove difficult enough for those working to make ends meet but a new spate of job losses announced in the first week of January - in betting offices, hair salons and pubs - suggest a difficult 2011 for many.

It will be the first year of the IMF bail-out era and we know it won't be easy.

But what people didn't expect was a VHI announcment of premium rises so early.

And they certainly didn't expect the scale of them.

Health insurance is a vital requirement, especially for families who cannot take the risk of being uninsured when an unexpected illness strikes. It can be costly but being uninsured can be worse.

But there is a danger that people can be forced out of taking health insurance.

The rises announced by the VHI are between fifteen and forty five per cent depending on the plan. A majority of the 1.35m customers will see a rise of fifteen per cent and for a family that could mean a rise of E331 - to come out of a wage packed already cut in the budget.

Those on more expensive plans will face a substantially bigger increase.

Of course the VHI is a business and must remain solvent to run its affairs. It blames the increases to customers on extra charges that it has endured - a rise in claims and the extra cost of private beds in public hospitals.

It has already cut administration costs as well as consultant and private hospital fees.

And yet that's not enough and it must go its customers again to make up the shortfall. It will certainly lose some - it lost about 48,000 customers alone in the last year. That will hit its income and make running its affairs even more difficult.

The VHI's difficulties has attracted little sympathy from its competitors, who blame the increases on VHI inefficiencies.

Quinn Healthcare say that the increased government health levy benefits the VHI more than any other insurer and yet it still needs to raise premiums.

Caught in the middle of all this are the policy-holders who must now pay more for their insurance and their plight cannot be ignored by the government.

If people drop their private health cover it will put added pressure on an already over-stretched public health system.

And that's a scenario we could well do without facing into a year that already promises enough hardship.