Sunday 22 April 2018

Come on Leo, stop this fraudulent double-charging of people with health insurance

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Tom Burke
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

People with health insurance are being discriminated against - because they are being singled out for double charging. What is happening is nothing short of an outrage.

The people who pay for everything in this country are a mark for under-funded public hospitals.

The hospitals have found a way to supplement their income and even have targets to meet on generating income from private patients.

They are doing this by attempting to get people who have private health insurance to forego their right to be treated as public patients - and they are increasingly using bullying and underhand techniques to achieve this.

People who turn up in A&E wards in public hospitals get asked if they have health insurance. If they tell the administrative staff they have cover, they are often asked to sign forms waiving their right to be treated as public patients. If they are reluctant to sign, the pressure is put on.

Yet mostly they are being treated no differently to someone who has entered the system as a public patient.

This is scandalous because if you sign away your right to be treated as public patients your insurer is charged at €813 a night, rather than €80 a night, even if the patient has only been treated on a chair or trolley. Some people have even been told there will be no treatment unless they sign the forms, according to Laya Healthcare.

Being charged for a service you do not receive is blatant fraud. You have already paid for the health system though your taxes, and are entitled to be treated as a public patient.

The blame for this rests with former Health Minister James Reilly. Instead of delivering on his promise of universal health insurance for all, he changed the system to allow this double charging.

Up to 2014, hospitals could only charge for so-called designated beds. And just 20pc of beds in public hospitals were set aside for those with health cover. Reilly promised the change would only cost health insurers €30m a year.

It is now costing them, and those of us with health cover, €200m a year, according to Department of Health figures.

It is the main reason some health insurers have already put up the price of cover three times already this year.

Half of the population are net recipients - they get more from the State than they put contribute in income and other taxes.

The other half props up the system.

Having to fund the system on the double is a step too far. New Taoiseach Leo Varadkar needs to act on this.

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