Waiting lists winning over a growing number to private health insurance

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Total revenues of private health insurance have doubled since 2012, when employers were allowed to grant it as a tax-free bonus to employees. More growth expected, subject to long overdue regulatory change.

Private insurance is still predominantly the privilege of employees, as it is granted by employers as a tax-free bonus in up to 95% of cases. On the other hand, because of the lower risks involved, most insurance companies have only offer group schemes.

“Only two insurance companies, among them UNION, provide such a service package for private individuals as well, but even in our case 19 out of 20 contracts are made with employers,” says Katalin Bóna, managing director of life insurance at UNION Biztosító. “Experience shows that primarily multinational corporations and domestically owned small- and medium-sized enterprises choose this form of bonus for their workers.”

In Hungary, it is mainly specialist and image diagnostics services that can be used under private insurance schemes. As evidenced by UNION’s own surveys, five years ago 37% of respondents used private physician services, but that ratio has risen to 50%. The primary reason for this trend is rooted in the fact that waiting times have soared significantly: Some 61% of those surveyed had been told they would have to wait at least one month to get an appointment with a specialist. 

The most popular areas with privately insured patients are dermatology, orthopedics, and gynecology, but ultrasound, MRI and gastroenterology are also high on the list of preferences. The scope of insurance may vary, and so do other terms and conditions. It is advisable to check whether any auxiliary insurance policy can be taken out for cancer treatment or hospital care, or if existing illnesses are covered against additional fees.

The market received a critical boost back in 2012 when private insurance became available as a tax-free bonus, but consolidating the regulatory environment is inevitable for a bigger breakthrough to happen.

“For now, it is not clear what services citizens can expect from the government for paying regular health insurance contributions, and in what cases total treatment costs are covered by the state, and where fees are incurred,” Bóna warns. “As long as uncertainty prevails, it remains hard to win the hearts and minds of masses for the cause of health insurance as a form of self-provision.”

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