Health insurance company Vhi has reported higher after tax profits and customer numbers for 2018.

Vhi said its after tax results showed a net surplus of €82.4m for its consolidated business activities, up from €75.3m the previous year. 

Its gross earned premium for last year amounted to €1.414 billion, down from €1.48 billion the previous year.

For the fourth year in a row, Vhi said its private health membership numbers grew and stood at 1.106 million at the end of last year, up from 1.075 million in 2017.

Meanwhile, total gross claims paid out last year amounted to €1.328 billion, down 0.1% on the €1.329 billion paid in 2017. 

Vhi said it processed almost 1,206,000 claims last year.

The biggest area of claims expenditure were cancer and related care, which amounted to €174.3m last year, heart and circulatory system (€159.5m), orthopaedic care (€153.8m) digestive system (€105.3m) and respiratory illness (€72.6m).

The company also said that income from insurance products and services other than private health insurance rose to €31.4m last year from €27.8m.

John O'Dwyer, Vhi's chief executive, said the Irish economy has recovered well and as a consequence the private health insurance market continues to expand. 

But he said that in order to protect Community Rating, the system of health insurance in Ireland where everyone pays the same price for the same product regardless of their age or health status, more needs to be done. 

"We need to improve the Risk Equalisation System so that health insurers are rewarded for delivering efficiencies and providing better health outcomes rather than just selecting better risks. Now is the time to take those steps," the Vhi CEO said. 

Mr O'Dwyer also said that health systems around the world are experiencing growing demand for more and better healthcare and the underlying cost drivers are rising. 

"Ireland is no exception, our population is ageing and people are living longer with chronic diseases," he stated. 

"The Government and the Oireachtas has responded to Ireland's healthcare challenges with Sláintecare, a new vision for the future of healthcare in Ireland which involves significant investment in developing new primary and acute care capacity, integrated care and chronic disease management programmes. 

"As these plans take shape Vhi continues to adapt and plan for the future and we want to play a key role in the evolution and development of future healthcare policy for the benefit of all," he added.