GOVERNMENT moves to make all patients with health insurance pay for using public hospitals will push premiums beyond the reach of thousands more families, it has been claimed.
Health insurance premiums are expected to rise by at least €360 per family as a result of new legislation to be enacted by Health Minister James Reilly by July 1.
The Government hopes to raise €120m a year by charging insurance firms €1,000 a night for each insured patient that uses a bed in a public hospital.
Fianna Fail health spokesman Billy Kelleher said: "This will have a devastating impact on hard-working families struggling to pay their bills.
"Families are being forced to make choices between filling their tank with heating oil or paying health insurance."
Premiums are likely to rise by at least 15pc in the coming months, even though average premiums for a family of four have doubled to €2,500 in the past three years, according to Dermot Goode of Healthinsurancesavings.ie
Mr Kelleher said: "This is a direct result of the Minister James Reilly's handling of the health services.
"People who have been paying health insurance have been lightening the burden on the State but now are being forced to pay even more for treatment.
"This is an attack on hard-working families," Mr Kelleher added.
Some 200,000 people have been forced to give up health insurance in the last two years because of rising premiums.
As a result of the new hike thousands more will now be forced to give up their health insurance, said Catherine Whelan, chief executive of the Independent Hospitals Association representing private hospitals.
Meanwhile, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore insisted families will not face a a 15pc hike in health insurance costs, claiming such figures are "exaggerated".