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Public v Private Health Insurance


Thursday July 17 2014 11:00 AM

This week blogger Lucina Russell shares her experience of public and private health insurance.

This business of Public v Private has intrigued me since I read the Brian Friel play 'Philadelphia Here I Come', in secondary school. The play illustrates the conflict between Public and Private Gar's thoughts and actions, through the reveal of his past experience, present feelings and future fantasies.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the topic of Health Insurance, but it makes me look well educated, or at least shows that I have a good memory …

It was around that age that my mother started hammering home the 'Essential Tips for Being Grown Up'. One of the best pieces of advice she gave me was not to say bad things on your friends' boyfriends if they split up, in case they got back together again. I should have listened ! Another piece of advice was to get Private Health Insurance as soon as I could. Once I had a steady income, I got the insurance in place. It made me feel very grown up and secure.

I had a twin pregnancy 7 years ago and forked out €3,000 on top of my policy for the care that I got. I must say, I had top class treatment, but if I did it all over again, I'd prefer to spend the money on something else … A three grand shopping spree sounds rather appealing.

Four years ago after a very scary weekend with blurred vision and terrible headaches, an optomologist told me that I had Optic Neuritis. She referred me onto a Neurologist and made an appointment for an MRI. My MRI appointment was four days later, the Neurologist appointment for a fortnight later. I went home to wait. In the meantime, I was very sick. The headaches persisted, I had constant nausea and my eye closed with the strain of the blurring. My young children wanted to climb all over me, but I wasn't able for them. In the end, I just couldn't wait any longer and went to A&E in the private hospital, where my appointment was scheduled two weeks later. After spending €350 on blood tests and a few hours monitoring, I was told that I should go home and wait. They said they couldn't do anything without the MRI results. I asked if they could do them there and then to speed up the process. It would cost another €700 (at least). There was no guarantee that they would then admit me. So I went home, with a heavy heart and an empty wallet.

I had my MRI, as scheduled a few days later. A friend suggested that I get a referral letter from my GP and to head for A&E in Beaumont Hospital. That's what I did. After a rather unpleasant and almost surreal night on a chair in a packed A&E Department, I was admitted to the Neurology ward the following morning, had a lumbar puncture done and started a five day course of IV steroids. The care was super. I felt listened to and my opinions and fragile state respected. I asked the staff what difference my Private Health care made to the care that I received. The reply was 'none'. Basically, if you are sick enough to be in a Neurology ward, you're in. I found that the aftercare available to all MS patients in Beaumont is equally good. I particularly like the telephone service, where you can phone an MS nurse and just have a chat.

I had a further health scare earlier this year, which involved a Fast Track trip through the Breast Check unit in St James's Hospital. While frightened by the speed in which the tests took place, I was very impressed by the rigors of the tests and the level of communication from the medical team. Thankfully, all was well, but either way, I felt that I would receive the best care available. Family members had similar experiences positive experiences on the oncology and cardiac services, again all through the public system. I don't consider these services as 'free of charge' though. Isn't that why we pay hefty taxes? 

When the subject of the benefits of private insurance is discussed, elective surgery is often mentioned, for operations such as a hip replacement. An elderly relation of mine has a hip replacement recently, but only after a long and painful summer of injections into her knee by a private consultant, who didn't associate the pain in her knee with her hip. So it seems that private hospitals make mistakes too. Furthermore, when she has a heart attack after the surgery, she was rushed to the neighbouring public hospital by for treatment. 

As a result of these experiences, I've been thinking long and hard about the benefit of private health insurance. I listen to the media, talking about a public health system in shambles. I know about the patients sleeping on hospital trolleys.  

I remembered my mother's advice. I considered my long term health needs. I thought about my ever decreasing bank balance. In the end, I cancelled my health insurance policy.

Just please don't tell me Ma! 

Author: Lucina Russell

Tags: private, public, health, insurance



Thursday July 17 2014 11:16

I have private health insurance but only because it's provided through my employer so costs me nothing.

I had it before I was diagnosed and have never used it for my MS diagnosis or treatment aside from one MRI for optic neuritis which was a bit of a waste as it showed nothing and I ended up having a brain and spinal MRI on the public system.

I used it a year later for another MRI.

In total my insurance costs about €1400 per year. I've claimed a total of €400 in the last 3 years.

All my other treatment has been public, from IV steroid treatment to neurologist appointments.

I think that if my employer stopped paying my health insurance I wouldn't continue it. I'd probably prefer to put the premium into a savings account and use that for instances where I need an MRI but the waiting list is months long.

Obviously this is just my own experience, but I have been very lucky to have gotten excellent and prompt treatment for my MS on the public system.

Joan Jordan

Thursday July 17 2014 14:29

Gosh! Where to start on this one? Excellent blog Lucina. Having Private Health Insurance is seen as a bit of a status symbol in Ireland but I personally am not convinced of it's value. I think that the Long Term Illness scheme is wonderful but what happened with Fampyra is tragic.

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