Wednesday 21 August 2019

Varadkar to axe universal health insurance plan with €2k premiums

Former Health Minister James Reilly (right) and his successor Leo Varadkar who is to drop multi-payer insurance plan
Former Health Minister James Reilly (right) and his successor Leo Varadkar who is to drop multi-payer insurance plan
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Nearly half the population would end up paying annual health insurance premiums of €2,228 - without any State subsidy - under the universal health insurance plan proposed by the Government.

The exorbitant costs are expected to result in Health Minister Leo Varadkar announcing to the Cabinet today that the original model for the Government's much-vaunted plan has been dropped.

Under the multi-payer system, in which healthcare would be funded by private and public contributions, another 8pc of the population would still be paying out €1,671 per adult, even with a 25pc State subsidy.

The Exchequer would have to find €3.7bn to pay for those who get free or subsidised healthcare.

However, to maintain a maximum premium of no more than €1,200, the State subsidy would need to be €6.3bn.

It is understood that the minister will outline an analysis based on three reports into universal health insurance to the Cabinet today.

Although the Government remains committed to a system of universal healthcare, it is now necessary to go back to the drawing board and it will not be possible to introduce it even in the lifetime of the next government.

Mr Varadkar called a halt to progressing the plan - which had been widely promoted by his predecessor Dr James Reilly - when he took over the department last year. He commissioned the research, one section of which involved a report from the ESRI.

It was a central plank of the Programme for Government ,with a promised end to the two-tier health system by effectively making everyone a private patient. Mr Varadkar's "parking" of the plan led to tensions with Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

The minister signalled he would concentrate on the extension of free GP care instead.

The original plan would have involved additional costs of more than €650m which, the research concluded, "would not be outweighed by benefits in terms of improved patient outcomes, lower healthcare prices or lower premiums".

The reports included the ESRI study on the potential costs, a KPMG study of potential premiums, and a study on potential subsidies for a multi-payer model.

They concluded that more research is needed in this area before definitive conclusions can be drawn.

The average annual premium for a universal health insurance package - before any subsidy - and comprising GP care, hospital care and mental healthcare, is estimated at €2,228 for adults and €773 for children. This is based on 2013 data. The reports found that the actual cost to individuals would depend on the level of subsidy provided by the State.

The ESRI report looked at a subsidy for vulnerable groups as follows:

Medical card holders (36pc of the population) would have a full subsidy and would pay no premium.

GP visit card holders (14pc of the population) would have a 50pc subsidy and pay a premium of €1,114.

Those with an income up to 175pc of the medical card limit (8pc of the population) would have a subsidy of 25pc and would pay a premium of €1,671.

The remaining 42pc of the population would pay the full premium of €2,228 without a subsidy.

Irish Independent

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