Saturday 20 January 2018

Households cutting down on GP and dental care to pay for health insurance

Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall
Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Households are avoiding GP visits and dental care in order to afford the cost of rising private health insurance premiums.

The worrying trend is revealed in figures showing that health insurance payments now account for 54pc of a household's overall healthcare spending.

This compares with just 40pc in 2009-2010.

However, over the same period, the share of spending on GP fees has dropped by 38pc and the proportion on dental costs has fallen by 62pc.

People are also having to dig deeper for prescription charges and payments for an overnight hospital stay as a public patient, the analysis by Trinity College healthcare experts revealed.

Overall, we are shelling out 9pc more in out-of-pocket expenses than we did seven years ago as we bear the ongoing brunt of the austerity price hikes.

The stark choices faced by consumers were revealed at a conference by researchers at the Trinity Centre for Health Policy and Management.

Trinity College healthcare expert Brighid Johnston warned: "The trend of cutting back on GP and dental care is a matter of concern.

"Delayed treatment risks health problems becoming more significant. It is a negative development."

She added that "the spend on health insurance is squeezing out other services - these are health services we need now".

Dr Steve Thomas, the centre's director, also said the figures show spending on nursing homes is now a significant issue for the many households in the poorest 20pc.

Sláintecare, the all-party blueprint for the introduction of a system of universal healthcare in Ireland in the next decade, was examined.

The report forecasts that if the changes are made to our health system over the next 10 years we will end up paying €1.5bn less in healthcare spending. Out-of-pocket spending on healthcare would drop from 15.4pc of the household budget to 8.5pc.

The blueprint, costing an extra €5.8bn over a decade, has been brought to Cabinet.

The plan would see the gradual extension of free GP care and free hospital care for all, as well as cuts or abolition of health charges.

Social Democrat TD Róisín Shortall, who chaired the all-party Oireachtas committee which produced the report, said that she accepted there would be "narrow fiscal space" for the Government this year to begin investment in the proposals.

However, this should ease in the next two years.

She said that she was "encouraged" by the reception it had received from Health Minister Simon Harris.

A senior executive to head an implementation office to drive the blueprint was currently being recruited, she told the gathering.

She criticised the over-emphasis on tax cuts and the concentration on the squeezed middle.

Ms Shortall insisted that the public would prefer the investment to go towards a proper functioning one-tier health service.

GPs attending the conference stressed the need for top-up funding for disadvantaged areas, and they questioned giving free GP care to better-off families.

People in the more deprived areas have higher rates of chronic illness and premature death, it was argued.

However, the economists pointed out that universal healthcare also has to benefit the middle-classes because of their financial contribution to taxation.

Irish Independent

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