Tuesday 23 January 2018

Reilly 'severely rebuked' in Cabinet over UHI costing

Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly TD
Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly TD

John Drennan and Daniel McConnell

Health Minister James Reilly has again been "severely rebuked" by his Cabinet colleagues, including ministers Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, over his controversial universal healthcare plans.

The Sunday Independent has learned that a series of tense exchanges occurred between Dr Reilly and a number of senior government ministers, including Mr Howlin and Mr Noonan, over the "appropriate status" of the Government's policy document on Universal Health Insurance (UHI).

The Government ultimately last month published the plan as a "White Paper" or department memo, which is ready to become law.

Serious reservations were expressed by both the Department of Finance and the Department of Public Expenditure as to Dr Reilly's costings, which one departmental memorandum claimed "threatened the financial viability of the State."

Some in Government wanted the White Paper to instead be published merely as a Green Paper – an aspirational statement of intent for the future.

It has been confirmed that although Dr Reilly prevailed, and the document was published as a White Paper, strenuous efforts were made by Finance in particular to dilute the status of the document.

"Noonan was very strong on the matter, he is distinctly unhappy," said one government source.

Mr Noonan's officials went as far as to try and persuade Dr Reilly to use the phrase a White Paper for consultation. An alternative title was further suggested – "a consultative White Paper".

Officials at the Department of Public Expenditure remain "very concerned" about uncertainty over the costs of UHI.

One senior Cabinet minister, speaking to the Sunday Independent, said: "You can be utterly clear that it was strongly advocated in some quarters that the UHI document was not a White Paper."

"Labour is in a clear state of knowledge as to the potential political damage of it all but James Reilly has, reluctantly, been given a green light and has been allowed to go ahead and cost it all," the minister added.

Another minister said: "He has been allowed to call it a White Paper, he needed that at least – but the reality is, how is it a White Paper? A White Paper is something that you produce when you are actually ready to go into the Dail with legislation".

"We have managed to quarantine all the dangerous stuff; we have just let him off to spare his blushes," one senior Labour figure said.

For his part, Dr Reilly has insisted that average income earners will not pay more than what they pay at present, rather they will pay "just a fraction of that."

"The current cost, on average, for private health insurance is €920. We have made it absolutely clear that those people who are above the medical card income limit and below the top 30 per cent of earners will be heavily subsidised so their costs will be but a fraction of that," he said.

"There is no evidence that the costs will be higher – we believe it will be cheaper under Universal Health Insurance.

"It has been claimed that the health basket [the range of healthcare measures that will be included] will be determined by the insurance companies, it will not. It will be determined by the Government," Dr Reilly said.

Sunday Independent

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