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Tuesday 16 January 2018

'Without reform, taxes will go up and services will come down. It is inevitable': James Reilly warns FG members

Health Minister Dr James Reilly. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Health Minister Dr James Reilly. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

John Downing Political Correspondent

TAXES will continue to rise while services worsen unless there is fundamental change in the health system, Health Minister Dr James Reilly has warned.

The embattled Health Minister, locked in internal government conflict over his Universal Health Insurance (UHI) plan, has strongly defended his proposals. 

In a swipe at officials working for Public Expenditure Minister, Brendan Howlin, who have challenged the reform plan costings,  Dr Reilly said fundamental reform was the only option.

“Some have argued that we cannot afford UHI. My answer is simple: we cannot afford the current system, even after all the savings we have made over the last few years,” Dr Reilly told delegates at the opening session of the Ard Fheis at the RDS in Dublin.

“Without reform, taxes will go up and services will come down. It is inevitable,” he added.

The Health Minister said the current health system was extremely unjust.  People with health insurance got treated more quickly and people without insurance risked losing their lives.

“Our current two-tier health system is unfair, inefficient, and tragically, does not guarantee to all that a safe service will always be provided,” the Minister said.

Dr Reilly evoked the Fine Gael ‘Just Society’ plan of 1965 which included a health service free to all but funded by health insurance. He said that almost 50 years later he was proud to deliver on that plan.


The Minister’s draft plan, due to go before Government in the coming weeks, provides all health care free at point of delivery but with everyone obliged to buy health insurance.  People on low incomes will have their insurance paid for them though some money may be clawed back from welfare payments.


One estimate has put the cost of very basic family insurance cover at €30 per week.  The Opposition has attacked the plan as ‘a new tax’ while the Public Expenditure Department has reportedly warned it could ultimately cost taxpayers an extra €5 billion per year.


But Dr Reilly said he hoped his proposals will soon be laid before the Irish people to give their views.  He said a huge raft of changes would be phased in over the coming five years culminating in full implementation by 2019.


The Health Minister referred to the damning report on the death of four babies at Portlaoise Maternity Hospital. He said he would soon be establishing a new Patient Safety Agency which would prioritise safe health care and offer quick redress when things went wrong.


“The Patient Safety Agency will be the patients’ champion, and will work to make patient safety the primary concern in all health services,” Dr Reilly said.


The Health Minister said he was working on a big overhaul of the health insurance market ahead of the move to UHI.  He said the Health Insurance Authority would be given new powers to help it drive costs down and make the system more transparent for customers.


Dr Reilly said under the new health system parents struggling to make ends meet would not have to choose between paying the electricity bill and taking a sick child to the doctor.  He said the new regime would give greater independence to health care workers to deliver quality service.

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