Thursday 17 October 2019

Coalition must fulfil its promise on health reform

THERE are good and bad reasons for the extraordinary increase in healthcare costs over the past decade. The legitimate reasons are obvious enough: the vast strides made in medicine in recent years; new drugs and new procedures are often expensive but they save lives and improve the living standards of those with serious illness; and people are living longer and this naturally imposes costs on society. But we should be grateful that we live in an age where healthcare is so good.

The problem is that healthcare costs are rising here much faster than almost anywhere in the western world, thanks in part to the remarkably generous salaries paid to doctors in the private and public sectors.

Independent think-tanks, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, regularly conclude that the system here is slightly more inefficient and rather more expensive than average.

Rising healthcare costs affect everybody but they hit those who chose to buy private healthcare hardest.

This is reasonable – those who opt to side-step the public healthcare system should pay the full cost of their decision.

What is not reasonable is that those who opt for private healthcare must also shoulder the cost of the Health Service Executive's failure to reform the system and tackle vested interests.

Rising premiums could be knocked on the head if there was determination to tackle these problems.

The problem for those using private healthcare is that the state-owned VHI, which effectively controls the private sector, shows little appetite for pushing down costs.

The elephant in the room is the failure of the Coalition to make good on its election promises to radically reform the system along the lines seen in most European countries.

Those reforms, based on the Dutch model, force hospitals to compete with one another to provide services. The State then regulates services rather than providing them.

The Government must now make good on its promise of wholescale reform to ensure real competition.

Until this happens, the huge number of people in this country who believe private healthcare is necessary to secure basic services face further price hikes in the years to come to pay for other people's mistakes as well as the life-enhancing improvements in medicine that will allow so many of us to live longer and more comfortable lives.

Irish Independent

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