A new law to make all patients with health insurance pay for using public hospitals will push premiums beyond the reach of thousands more families, it was claimed today.
Health insurance premiums are expected to rise by at least €360 per family as a result of new legislation to be enforced from July 1.
The Government hope to raise €120m a year by charging insurance companies €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 who are struggling to pay their bills.
"Families are being forced to make choices between filling their tank with heating oil or paying private 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.
"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 hospital treatment.
"This is an attack on hard-working families," Kelleher added.
Some 200,000 people have been forced to give up health insurance 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 which represents private hospitals.
There was a huge risk that many private hospitals will be forced to close because of the sharp fall in the number of people with medical insurance, she said.
The new premium hikes likely to be imposed later this year will be the third increase imposed on insured families in 12 months.
Health insurance companies stated the new law risks destroying the market for health insurance.
They stated a €1,000 nightly charge would mean that even those who were being treated publicly would find that their insurer was charged for the stay in hospital.
Brian Dunne, chairman of Aviva Health, said: "Any move to redesignate bed charges will inevitably and substantially drive up premiums because insurers simply cannot bear the cost and remain in business.
"It could well have substantial implications for the sustainability of the market."