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Fixing health system is best medicine -- not making us all suffer pain of punishing bills

DECENT hard-working people in this country always got the best education they could, took out a mortgage to buy their own home and spent money on a VHI plan.

Today, those decent hard- working people are like the walking wounded.

For many, a good education hasn't kept them off the dole queues.

Their homes are worth much less than they cost while their salaries and pensions have shrunk.

The latest blow is that their VHI membership is to go up by as much as 45pc. It is a betrayal of loyal customers who stayed with the VHI, many of them for decades, paying up, year in, year out, and never using their insurance.

But right at the point where they know they need VHI to have a hip operation, or a coronary bypass, they're told to find more money out of their rapidly diminishing funds.

That's betrayal, in anyone's language.


The announcement also represents utter failure on the part of the Minister for Health and her Government.

Remember, the VHI is owned by the State and has always been owned by the State.

Remember also that the bulge in the numbers of older people who the VHI has failed to cope with hasn't come about suddenly. Anybody who even glanced at national statistics could see it coming.

Yet the minister utterly failed to manage that predictable situation.

She chose to bring in a levy that would penalise every health insurance customer under a certain age, the idea being that the levy would be given to the VHI to compensate them for the fact that they had a much greater proportion of older people on their books.

All that did was drive up the cost of insurance to younger people -- just at the point where they were trying to cope with negative equity.

The VHI still ended up increasing the cost of the very plan most older customers prefer.

But then there was risk equalisation, which fell in the courts in 2008 because it was ineptly enacted.


Since risk equalisation was supposed to ensure community rating, thus enabling people of all ages to pay the same for their insurance, it would have been a very good thing.

Having got it wrong the first time, you'd think the Minister would move Heaven and Earth to get it right thereafter.

Did she?

Uh, uh.

She said her solution would emerge in three years.

And her junior minister came out recently to tell us it will now take two MORE years.


What's utterly unconscionable is to hit customers with this VHI hike before the publication of the Milliman Report that has been with the Department of Health since last year.

That report, I'm told, shows VHI could make savings of many millions if it did its business differently.

Instead of doing the hard work to fix the system, this minister and Government took the lazy option: to punish the customer especially the older ones.

How's that for a payback for working hard and being loyal?

Dr James Reilly, TD, is the Fine Gael spokesman on health