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Thursday 18 September 2014

Varadkar must drop plan for health cover for everyone

Published 10/08/2014 | 00:00

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POLITIC-SPEAK: Is Leo Varadkar’s talk of a ‘delay’ really an acknowledgement that universal health cover is dead in the water?
POLITIC-SPEAK: Is Leo Varadkar’s talk of a ‘delay’ really an acknowledgement that universal health cover is dead in the water?

NEW Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said he plans to delay the introduction of universal health insurance (UHI).

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But he should go further - and scrap the plan altogether.

The system could cost a family €3,600 and it is not even clear what they will get from that, apart from the fact that there would be no preferential access to treatment. The heaviest financial burden would fall on families that do not have health insurance and do not qualify for a medical card.

This means that roughly 300,000 people who have had to ditch health cover would be forced to subscribe to the new system, for very doubtful benefits.

Older people would also be losers if the new system was brought in. This is because insurance cover would be risk weighted, which would mean older people and those with illnesses would be hammered.

The estimated cost figure of €3,600 for a family of four comes from former health minister James Reilly, who had said he was "optimistic" that universal insurance would cost no more than €900 per person, including children.

So you can take it that €900 will be the lowest cost if the system is ever introduced here.

UHI aims to eliminate the current two-tier system of public and private medicine and to end the practice of queue-jumping for treatment by people who can afford to pay or who have private health insurance.

But - and let's be blatantly honest here - most of the two million people who buy private health insurance have it precisely because they want to skip the queue.

With UHI, everyone would be a private patient. It would be mandatory for all to have cover for a basic package of services - known as a basket - from one of a number of different insurers.

The State would pay premiums for low-income groups and subsidise others. People who refuse to take out cover would have it provided for them, with the cost deducted from their earnings or benefits.

So, middle-income people would again find themselves picking up the tab for others.

The Government's white paper on the issue proposed a "preferred" basket of what would be covered in the standard package. But the paper was unable to say what would be in this preferred basket.

So if the plan to introduce universal cover is maintained then we would be asked to pay for something and it is not even clear what we would get in return. Utter folly.

Dr Varadkar has insisted that universal health insurance is still the "vision" for his Government.

It would be better to make health insurance more affordable instead of bringing in a new system of doubtful benefit.

It is time to ditch the universal health cover plan.

Twitter: @Cweston_Indo

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