News Health

Thursday 19 September 2019

Poor families spending 10pc of their income on health care despite having medical card

It found one-in-five medical card holders is doubling up by paying for private health insurance. Photo: Getty
It found one-in-five medical card holders is doubling up by paying for private health insurance. Photo: Getty

Lynne Kelleher

Some of the country's poorest households are spending nearly 10pc of their disposable income on private health care - despite having medical cards.

A new study has found the number of Irish households going through financial hardship to pay for private medical bills such as private health insurance, along with out-of-pocket expenses like GP and outpatient fees, is on the rise.

The Trinity College research found private health insurance made up nearly 10pc of total spending in the nation's poorest households, while it was just over 3pc of all spending for the highest earning households.

It found one-in-five medical card holders is doubling up by paying for private health insurance.

Health economist Dr Bridget Johnston, of the centre for health policy and management at Trinity, one of the authors of the paper, said there appeared to be a perception among some poorer households that they needed private health insurance to get access to care.

"What we're finding is households who are basically poor, who are living below the subsistence line and have a medical card, are still continuing to buy private health insurance," she said.

"It's probably not surprising given how much coverage there is about waiting lists in the public system.

"There is also the perception that private healthcare is of better quality than public healthcare, which there is no evidence at all to support in Ireland."

She said the study found poorer people were spending a lot more on private health insurance relative to their ability to pay than wealthier households.

Despite the economic recovery, the research found the incidence of unaffordable private health spending on out-of-pocket fees and private insurance rose from 15pc in 2009-10 to 18.8pc in 2015-16.

The research used data from the Central Statistic Office's Irish Household Budget Survey - which gives a picture of how Irish households spend their money week to week - from February 2009 to 2010, at the height of the recession, and from February 2015 to 2016.

In the study, which has just been published in 'Health Policy', households were classified as having unaffordable health expenditure if they were poor and reported any spending on private healthcare. They also fell into the bracket if they were pushed below the poverty line by health spending or if their spending on health was higher than 40pc of their disposable income.

Along with private health insurance, the paper identified out-of-pocket expenses such as GP fees, home help, nursing home, dental, outpatient fees, over-the-counter drugs and prescribed drugs as contributing toward financial hardship.

The study found that 16pc of spending among medical card holders classed as having unaffordable expenditure on private health went toward GP, inpatient and outpatient care.

The authors said: "There are high levels of spending among households with medical cards for services which should be free of charge in the General Medical Scheme or public system."

They suggested broadening the basket of care provided for those on medical cards.

Irish Independent

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