Friday 28 November 2014

Punished for wanting to pay our way on health

Taking out private cover eases pressure on the taxpayer, so why are we to be denied this choice?

Published 13/04/2014 | 02:30

Why are we being denied the choice to pay our own way for our healthcare?
Why are we being denied the choice to pay our own way for our healthcare?

Growing up in the 1980s, in a one-income house of six children, money was never anything other than scarce. However, despite the pressures, from the moment we were born, we all had VHI private health insurance.

Despite half the one salary being hived off in taxation, the VHI got paid before the mortgage, before we got fed, almost.

That was the importance my late parents placed on having it.

Like most normal families, having health insurance was a comfort blanket for when something bad happened, that we would get quick access to the doctors and treatment required.

It was the one reward for those who sacrificed, those who in fact did the State a massive favour by taking the burden of looking after us off the public purse.

That reward for that sacrifice and effort is being snatched away. Driven by fear of languishing in or being failed by a creaking public system, we and many thousands like us chose and continue to choose to not inconvenience the taxpayer to look after us. We say that we want to look after ourselves.

Now that choice is under attack by the Government's controversial plan to introduce Universal Health Insurance (UHI).

Now, as a dad myself, with a baby daughter, that comfort blanket that my parents wanted for me, I now desperately want for my family.

So, why now does the State want to come along and deny me that choice? Why does it seek to dictate to me that I will have to pay significantly more money for a worse service?

And I am not a bad person for saying this or believing it.

Also, my confidence in this Government to deliver the plan is less than fulsome. Indeed, James Reilly's initial plan was roundly scoffed at by Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin.

Much of this lack of confidence centres around the lack of ability in Reilly, who has been badly exposed on several occasions, to deliver it.

Last month, Howlin's department went as far as to say that the UHI plan in its current form would "threaten the financial viability of the State". This is what the Government itself is saying to its own policy!

The other big burning question is how much this plan will cost.

At present, I pay €1,054 a year in health insurance to VHI. This is a reduced service from what I was previously on, given the repeated increases in premiums being charged.

This allows me quick access to a specialist if I need to be diagnosed and treatment if deemed required.

But aside from the ideological effrontery of my choices being limited, the burning issue is what will the universal baskets of service actually cover?

Now, Reilly says this plan will cost between €900 and €1,000 for the basic "basket" of services that will be covered, but again the money men in Government dispute this. They say the charge for the basic basket will be nearer to €1,600.

But what will this basket include?

Given the incredible pressures already on the health system, when so many thousands of patients are paying for their own care, is it credible to believe that the services will improve?

It is in my mind inevitable that as a result of this system there will have to be a rationing of health services.

Is it credible to think that the basket will only be able to fund a woefully rudimentary level of service, that most people, in order to match what they have at the moment, will have to heavily subsidise at massive cost? If I want to top it up to retain the level of care, I will have to pay for that.

This is because the supplementary insurance above the standard basket won't be risk equalised or community rated, which means a further premium is likely to be applied.

How is this fair?

The UHI plan will also end my ability to speedy access to the system. So, me and the 40-smokes-and-10-pints-a-day man who never had insurance and clogs up beds in hospital wards will now be in the same boat.

Reilly has insisted we won't be waiting months to be seen, but given the low credibility being given to this within his own Coalition, how can we believe him?

And, I am not alone in saying this. It emerged last week that the Government is facing huge resistance to aspects of its universal healthcare plan that will prevent people with private health insurance from avoiding waiting lists.

An overwhelming nine in 10 people who have private health cover say they do not want to have to join waiting lists for treatment, according to a new poll by Red C. It shows 88 per cent of people who have private cover would be concerned about having to be in a hospital queue.

Ultimately, a policy that is driven by a desire to level the playing field is in fact most inequitable. Worse still, it will represent a punishment to the many thousands of diligent, hard-working people who have relieved the State of the burden of caring for them.

If we want to transform the health sector, we should try and drive down the cost of insurance premiums and provide a decent health service for those who rely on the public system.

I am certainly not advocating the retention of the status quo, but continuing on with a plan that many within Government don't believe in is not the way to go.

@mcconnelldaniel

Sunday Independent

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