HEALTH Minister Dr James Reilly is promising his new health insurance for all won't cost more than premiums at the moment.
But the minister couldn't give any detail on the cost to the consumer of the reform of the health service through the introduction of Universal Health Insurance.
Dr Reilly said the new health insurance will not be any more than the current €920-a-year cost of the average health insurance package. The figure of €920 is the average cost, after tax relief reduced the bill.
But the minister couldn't say what would happen to the tax relief, from which private health insurance customers currently benefit, when it is subsumed into UHI.
Dr Reilly said if UHI were in place now, the average premium would be less than this figure – and everyone would also have free GP care.
The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has estimated in a letter to the Department of Health that UHI could cost more than €1,600 per person.
The white paper does not detail the basket of services to which people will be entitled for the premium, and this will only be decided after a process of public consultation up to May 28, an examination by an expert commission and debate at the health Oireachtas commitee. The Government will make the final decision.
The inclusion of drugs – subject to co-payments – will be considered as part of the basket, but those who currently have medical cards will get them free.
People who currently have health insurance should have a lower premium, with the advantage of not having to pay their GP, added Dr Reilly.
If people want to buy additional insurance, it can only cover better accommodation and "cordon bleu" cooking rather than fast access. These premiums will be risk-rated, so the older and sicker will pay more.
Health insurance companies which will be paid premiums will compete with prices, but may have their overheads and profit margins capped.
Dr Reilly said the changeover to UHI was a great opportunity. "I know it sounds like hype – but I think it is the biggest reform in the history of the State," he said. He said the system had to change and "the status quo is not sustainable".
Dr Reilly added that the dramatic increase in spending from 1997 to 2007 did not sort out the problems in the health service.
"If money were the problem, we would have solved it a lot time ago," he said.
"Three years ago the Irish people voted for change. Change in the way we run our economy. Change in the way we manage our finances. Change in our health system.
"The publication today of a white paper on UHI sends a very clear message: We intend to deliver on that promise of change.
"The Minister for Health's reform plan represents a once in a generation opportunity to help build a health system which is fit for purpose in a modern republic. A health system which truly places the patient at the heart of all that it does," he said.