Reilly tells delegates universal health insurance is the only way forward
TAXES will continue to rise while services worsen unless there is fundamental change in the health system, Health Minister Dr James Reilly has warned.
The embattled minister, who is locked in conflict within the Government over his Universal Health Insurance (UHI) plan, has strongly defended his proposals.
In a swipe at officials working for Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, who have challenged the reform plan's costings, Dr Reilly said fundamental reform was the only option.
"Some have argued that we cannot afford UHI. My answer is simple: we cannot afford the current system, even after all the savings we have made over the last few years," Dr Reilly told delegates at the opening session of the Ard Fheis.
"Without reform, taxes will go up and services will come down. It is inevitable," he added.
The minister said the current health system was extremely unjust. People with health insurance were treated more quickly and people without insurance risked losing their lives.
"Our current two-tier health system is unfair, inefficient and, tragically, does not guarantee to all that a safe service will always be provided," said Dr Reilly.
He evoked the Fine Gael 'Just Society' plan of 1965, which included a health service free to all but funded by health insurance. He said that almost 50 years later he was proud to deliver on that.
The draft plan provides all healthcare free at the point of delivery but with everyone obliged to buy health insurance. People on low incomes will have their insurance paid for them, although some money may be clawed back from welfare payments.
One estimate has put the cost of very basic family insurance cover at €30 per week. The opposition has attacked the plan as "a new tax" while the Public Expenditure Department has reportedly warned it could ultimately cost taxpayers an extra €5bn per year.
But Dr Reilly said a huge raft of changes would be phased in over the coming five years, culminating in full implementation by 2019.
The Health Minister also referred to the damning report on the death of four babies at Portlaoise Maternity Hospital. He said he would soon be establishing a new Patient Safety Agency to prioritise safe healthcare and offer quick redress when things go wrong.
"The Patient Safety Agency will be the patients' champion and will work to make patient safety the primary concern in all health services," Dr Reilly said.
The Health Minister said he was working on a big overhaul of the health insurance market ahead of the move to UHI and that the Health Insurance Authority would be given new powers to help it drive costs down and make the system more transparent for customers.
Dr Reilly said that under the new health system parents struggling to make ends meet would not have to choose between paying the electricity bill and taking a sick child to the doctor. The new regime would give greater independence to health care workers to deliver quality service, he added.