Saturday 24 March 2018

Cost worries as Universal Health Insurance gets the green light

Health Minister James Reilly is tipped to be moved from his post
Health Minister James Reilly is tipped to be moved from his post

Fionnan Sheahan Group Political Editor

THE cost of bringing in the radical reform of the health service will be known early next year, the Irish Independent has learnt.

The Government has given the go-ahead for the process of implementing Universal Health Insurance (UHI) to proceed.

But Health Minister Dr James Reilly's proposals have come under fire for lacking in detail on how it will be funded.

Universal Health Insurance will end the two-tier health system and give a basic level of insurance to everybody, subsidised by the State.

The system is expected to be introduced within five years.

The proposal has attracted criticism from within the Government itself for lacking detail on the costs.


The minister is setting up a commission which will set out the costs of implementing UHI by the start of next year.

Dr Reilly has now inserted a guarantee in his plan that the costs will "not exceed" the spending on the existing two-tier system.

Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Spending Minister Brendan Howlin and their officials have expressed serious concerns about the cost of UHI and the financial implications for the State.

In response to the criticism, Dr Reilly has inserted a cap on spending linked to national expenditure.

"The Government is determined that total spending by the State on healthcare in Ireland under a single-tier UHI system should not exceed the total spending under the two-tier system, which it replaces.

"This approach will allow for cost-effective, additional investment in health services, in line with increases that are consistent with our constitutional and legal obligations under the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (the Fiscal Compact) and the Stability and Growth Pact," the new document says.

The proposals for the radical reform of the health service will be published today after being cleared by the Cabinet yesterday. The reform will have massive implications for the two million people who hold private health insurance cover.

Insurance companies will be specifically banned from offering quicker access to hospitals for standard treatments – though they will still be able to offer other benefits such as private rooms.

The core principle of UHI is healthcare being equally available to each member of society and treatment based solely on medical need, not income.

Everyone will have cover from a private health insurance company.

Those who can't afford the premium will have it paid for fully or be heavily subsidised by the State.

Dr Reilly has estimated that 40pc of the population, who currently hold medical cards, will get their health insurance paid in full, with another 30pc getting a heavy subsidy.

The minister will also have to show hospitals can be run and health services can be delivered at a lower cost to the taxpayer for his reform of the system to go ahead in five years' time.

The preparations for UHI will proceed with a view to getting the health service to operate more efficiently.

Irish Independent

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