Friday 23 March 2018

Burton hints Labour will end support for universal health plan

Health Minister Leo Varadkar
Health Minister Leo Varadkar

Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

Tánaiste Joan Burton has distanced the Labour Party from the Government's controversial plan to introduce Universal Health Insurance (UHI) as a General Election edges closer.

Ms Burton told members at a Labour meeting in Cork that she does not believe a "UHI, or any other insurance-based system", will meet the criteria she envisions for the party's election manifesto health policy.

"I have no interest in a 'big bang' reform which fails to provide fairly for significant numbers of our citizens. And there is no point in continuing to plan for a system which would impose impossible demands on the Exchequer or on those who pay insurance premiums," she said.

Ms Burton's comments come as Health Minister Leo Varadkar prepares to water down UHI, as proposed by the Government.

Mr Varadkar is frustrated he does not have the funds to stick with the previous model and is preparing to now exclude the areas of drugs and primary care.

However, the move is likely to reignite tensions between Mr Varadkar and the Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who still favours the full-scale model.

When Mr Varadkar was appointed Health Minister, he initially played down the UHI proposal - despite it being the cornerstone of his predecessor James Reilly's vision for the health system.

"The Government remains committed to UHI but Leo seems to be moving away from it," a senior Government source said.

"The Taoiseach's office still sees it as Government policy. Now I think, months out from an election, he wants to see it fall," the source added.

In her speech, Ms Burton said Labour's vision for the health service would focus on universal primary care rather than health insurance.

However, Fine Gael sources dismissed Ms Bruton's speech as electioneering as the countdown to the election begins.

Meanwhile, Eilish O'Regan writes, some GPs who are refusing to sign up to the free visits scheme for the under-sixes will continue to charge a private fee and ask the child's parent to claim it back from the HSE, it emerged yesterday.

Dr Kevin Kelly, who is among 39 Tipperary GPs who are still refusing to sign on the grounds of patient safety, said: "We will continue to provide a service to children under-six from July. But we will inform parents the child is entitled to free visits and to invoice the HSE."

The HSE said yesterday that nationally nearly 75pc of GPs have now signed up with more than a week to go.

Irish Independent

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