Sunday 22 September 2019

UHI as promised at election is 'not affordable now or ever'

Micheál Martin
Micheál Martin
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has admitted that the version of universal health insurance (UHI) promised by the Taoiseach in his pre-election 'Five-Point Plan' was "flawed".

As ESRI research suggested that families would have to pay up to €5,000 each to fund the model of UHI outlined in the Programme for Government, Mr Varadkar said it is "not affordable now or ever".

The minister told the Cabinet yesterday that he now needs to commission fresh research into other types of UHI - but ultimately it won't be introduced until after the next government.

"Universal health insurance, the model studied by the ESRI, will never come in. That's because the premiums proposed are far too great for any family to pay or for the exchequer to fund. There are other models of universal health insurance and they are deliverable. But they are not deliverable in the term of the next government. We need to do other things first," Mr Varadkar said last night.

He said that before any future decisions on a funding model for the health system could be made, the Government needs to ensure there is:

  • sufficient capacity to satisfy unmet demand - in terms of specialists, critical care beds, and other infrastructure;
  • enhanced primary and social care;
  • reformed structures to replace the HSE with Hospital Groups and Trusts, Community Healthcare Organisations and other new structures;
  • financial reforms including "activity based" funding;
  • implementation of the 'Healthy Ireland' national framework and the public health and patient safety agendas.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the Government should resign over what he described as the abandonment of their plan for the crisis-ridden health system.

"This is a resigning matter. We would like the electorate to take matters into their own hands," Mr Martin said.

The Cork TD rejected suggestions that Health Minister Leo Varadkar deserves credit for admitting the plans could not materialise.

"Leo Varadkar didn't say a dickie bird about this until he came into office and I would say the civil servants are at the end of their tether in terms of this basic dishonest proposition."

Mr Martin also heaped criticism on Mr Kenny, saying he is the "least accountable" Taoiseach in history.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said that it is clear that the policy of UHI "is being shelved and the only question remaining is when the Government will officially disown it".

The IMO has been strongly critical of UHI since it was first proposed. The organisation described it as "a harsh insurance based financial model mis-sold by the Government as a commitment to equitable health care".

President of the IMO Dr Ray Walley said the Government's promotion of UHI was one of the biggest cases of "political mis-selling" in recent history.

Under the multi-payer system, the country's healthcare would be funded by private and public contributions.

Even with a 25pc State subsidy, 8pc of the population would still be paying out €1,671 per adult.

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.

Asked if former health minister James Reilly had over-promised, Mr Varadkar said: "We were probably a little bit too ambitious about what could be achieved, particularly during a time of economic distress."

Irish Independent

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