Private hospitals warn of closure over plan to charge full price for public beds
PRIVATE hospitals have warned they are in danger of closing if the Government presses ahead with plans to charge private patients the full cost of using public hospital beds.
The Independent Hospitals Association of Ireland (IHAI), which has 21 members, said the changes would mean capacity in private hospitals would be under-utilised, and would inevitably lead to closures.
The warning came after health insurers said that premiums would rise by up to 30pc if changes proposed under the Health (Amendment) Bill 2013 went ahead.
Private patients occupying public beds will be charged up to €1,200 a night, and the steep rise in premiums would result in 300,000 people giving up their insurance, it was claimed.
IHAI chief executive Catherine Whelan said the move would result in those without insurance waiting longer for treatment.
"If health insurance goes up 30pc, and there is a suggestion that 300,000 will leave if this goes ahead, those people will rely on the public hospital system," she said.
"At the moment, we have 300,000 people waiting for an out-patient appointment, and almost 50,000 waiting for a procedure. Times will become longer, waiting lists will grow and it will have an impact on those with and without coverage.
"There will be less people presenting for treatment in a private hospital, meaning capacity will be under-utilised. In this environment, independent hospitals will face closures and as a result, there will be a serious reduction in the healthcare services available to the people of Ireland."
IHAI members – which include the Blackrock Clinic and St Vincent's in Dublin, the Galway Clinic, Barringtons in Limerick and the Clane Hospital in Kildare – provide treatment to 400,000 patients every year and employ 8,400 healthcare staff.
Ms Whelan said the association was meeting EU officials in the coming weeks amid concerns that the Government's plan could breach competition law because the rates charged by the public hospitals are set by the Health Minister, whereas the private hospitals negotiate with insurers.
But the Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, accused private hospitals of scaremongering.
Dr Reilly told RTE's 'The Week in Politics': "I don't think there should be any increases in insurance because of the massive increases in the last number of years," he said.
"They talk about medical inflation of 9pc when everything else has deflated.
"I want aggressive control of prices."