Saturday 18 November 2017

Health: Bitter medicine will force patients to pay more

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

PATIENTS will be forced to pay more out of their own pockets for healthcare, as more than €1.4bn will be slashed from health spending over four years.

The harshest medicine will be delivered next year, when a massive €746m will be cut from health spending. This will lead to cuts in hospital services and a rise in drug and private health insurance costs.

The rest of the €680m cut will be spread over three years with the health budget falling from €14.1bn in 2011 to €13.7bn in 2014.

Changes in the medical card scheme are on the way with fewer people getting completely free care.

This means more people will have to make some sort of payment for services.

Health Minister Mary Harney said these changes would not come into effect next year because legislation was needed.

She said she wanted more people to benefit from some level of financial subsidy, with focus shifting to people's medical needs and off income levels.

People who receive home help or a home-care package, currently free, will also be making a contribution. Again, this is unlikely to be in place by next year.

Insurance

But people on the drug payment scheme will be paying more from January and charges for private beds in public hospitals will also go up -- with implications for private health insurance premiums.

Ms Harney said she was aware that people were financially strapped and the hikes would be "modest".

The aim is to offset the €746m in cuts next year by the HSE getting better value in the goods it buys such as as drugs.

Some of the financial impact will also be softened by the departure of staff through its exit schemes and retirements.

There will be a cut from 106,850 HSE staff to 100,800 by 2014.

The Croke Park agreement provides for more staff redeployment and flexibility to fill gaps.

Cuts in overtime and a reduction of 10pc in pay for all new staff entering the health service will also generate savings of around €259m and lessen the damage of the cuts on frontline services.

The plan warns that the "traditional model" of completely free provision for public services is not sustainable.

Hospitals will have to try to reduce the impact of their cuts in budget by treating more patients on a day basis and reducing the length of patients' stay.

The plan envisages "performance management" for health staff next year.

There will be more competition among doctors and all trained GPs should be allowed to treat medical card holders.

Irish Independent

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