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The cost of health insurance has more than doubled since 2009 and could jump again, according to the Irish Health Insurance Council. The body, which comprises all four private health insurers, has warned that the government’s plans to charge private patients the full cost of using public hospital beds could result in health insurance premiums going up by 30%. This would force a further 300,000 to cancel their health insurance, according to the council. We look at what health cash plans offer in terms of providing cover.

Health cash plans pay you cash towards the cost of a wide range of everyday medical treatments such as GP and dentist visits. They can be attractive to cash-strapped consumers because they are relatively cheap.

The Hospital Saturday Fund (HSF) has been the dominant provider of cash plans in Ireland with more than 100,000 customers but new players have entered the market in recent years. In 2012 GloHealth became the first mainstream health insurer to offer cash plans. Laya Healthcare launched its own range of cash plans last month.

The HSF’s family plans range in cost from €114 to €972 annually. Depending on the level of cover, you can recoup part or all of the costs of a range of medical expenses. You also get personal accident cover along with entitlements to childbirth and adoption grants. The HSF’s family plans are not related to how many people are on your policy so children are covered at no extra cost. It also has cash plans aimed at individuals which cost €156 to €624 a year.

GloHealth’s Hospital Care plans for families cost between €249.50 and €624 while individual plans cost between €187 and €468 annually. Laya Healthcare’s family cash plans cost between €248 and €550 a year. Its individual plans range from €165 to €325.

Health cash plans are not designed to meet the costs of hospital treatment. You can claim cash back for each night that you have to spend in hospital but this will only go towards covering out-of-pocket expenses rather than the cost of hospital treatment itself. Depending on the level of cover, the HSF’s family plans pay €20 to €120 for each night you stay in hospital up to 40 nights. GloHealth’s Hospital Care plans pay €40 to €120 per night up to 20 nights. Laya Healthcare’s schemes pay €20 to €40 per night up to 40 nights. Consultants’ fees incurred as part of a hospital stay are not covered.

Cash plans are primarily intended to help cover routine healthcare costs such as GP visits, dental visits and optical care. Health insurance gives you comprehensive medical cover including fast access to hospitals, treatment and procedures. Dermot Goode of, an adviser, said: “For people who can’t afford health insurance, and want to have something in place that gives refunds on routine expenses, then cash plans are an option. If you are buying a cash plan because you think that it gives you a reduced level of health insurance cover, it doesn’t.”

It can make financial sense to take an excess on your health insurance policy and use a cash plan to claw this back if you need to pay it. Health insurance experts say a small policy excess can reduce your health insurance by up to 20%. The cheapest cash plan on the market costs €9.50 per month and pays €20 for each night that you, your spouse or your children spend in hospital so should cover part, or all of your health insurance policy excess should you have to pay it.