Sunday 20 October 2019

HSE asks for €655m bailout as private insurance income drops

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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The HSE is seeking a €655m supplementary budget bailout today as it blames a major fall-off in hospital income from privately insured patients for helping put it into the red again this year.

Officials appearing before the Oireachtas Health Committee say a drop of €85m this year in private-patient income to public hospitals followed the campaign by insurance companies urging many of their insured customers not to use their private cover if admitted to a public bed.

Instead, they have encouraged their members to consider being treated as a public patient.

The hospital fee per night for an insurer comes to €80 if their customer is treated as a public patient, a fraction of a private fee.

But the overnight stays cost the public hospital around €1,000 a night per patient when various costs are taken into account.

The HSE is also to admit it has failed to make €346m in savings it was told to include in its spending this year.

This unrealistic target - which has become an annual feature of the January accounting exercise for the HSE - is landing it in overruns later on in the year.

The unexpected demands which arose from the CervicalCheck scandal also led to additional payouts and the extra 97,000 cervical screening tests offered to women cost €5m.

Other drivers are this season's "winter plan", which is costing €10m in a bid to keep the trolley crisis under control.

The HSE is also under pressure because of a rise in the number of patients on waiting lists who are using the EU cross-border directive.

The patients are travelling to Northern Ireland or another state for treatment, the cost of which they can later claim back.

The financial pressures caused by Storm Emma earlier this year and the demand for emergency places for people with disabilities, whose carer may have become ill or died, also proved costly this year.

The €46m payout from the State Claims Agency for health-related legal cases has also blown another hole in the budget.

Officials say the increasing costs are not exclusively due to the rising numbers of claims but rather the increasing costs of awards and the "very high costs associated with catastrophic injury claims".

The cost of reimbursing the costs of high-tech drugs has also spiralled.

The final bill for 2018 is not yet known, but between 2011 and 2016 the total spending rose by 76pc from €328m to €578m.

Some €30m is being allocated to cover the cost of these expensive new drugs to treat patients with cancer, cystic fibrosis and arthritis.

Minister of State Jim Daly, who is standing in for Health Minister Simon Harris today, also says that first charge is €90m, which is a hangover from overspending in 2017.

Around €5.7m has had to be found to pay for extra hospital beds.

The €655m supplementary funding is not for additional activity but to maintain the health service at current levels.

The Sláintecare plan to overhaul the health service is being cited as the way forward for the HSE.

Irish Independent

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