INDEPENDENT hospitals may face closure as a result of a controversial scheme from Health Minister James Reilly.
Dr Reilly last night refused to back down on plans to charge insurance firms every time their customers use public beds – a move insurers say will see premiums rise by up to 30pc.
The scheme will mean that all insurance customers who stay in a hospital bed will be hit by charges, regardless of whether they are private beds or not.
Fianna Fail says the plan "beggars belief" and that it will see private insurance customers being unfairly penalised.
Now a group representing 21 independent hospitals warned that many facilities may close.
The Independent Hospitals Association (IHA) pleaded with the Government to rethink.
"Our message to the Government is that there are other ways in which this financial target can be met. What the State is trying to do is to raise in the region of €65m this year in income and next year €120m.
"There are other ways and we are very willing and keen to work with the State and identify ways which that financial target can be met," said IHA chairperson Catherine Whelan.
The IHA represents 21 independent hospitals, including the Mater Private and Mount Carmel hospitals.
It says that independent hospitals will face closure if the Government goes ahead.
However the Health Minister said the threat by insurance firms to increase premiums by 30pc is "scaremongering".
"The insurers have not done enough in relation to addressing their costs. We still are paying for procedures along the basis what it used to take to do them," he told RTE's The Week In Politics.
"There's one procedure that used to take two hours. It now takes 20 minutes and we're still paying the sort of money we used to pay for it when it took two hours."
However, Fianna Fail health spokesperson Billy Kelleher said the measures will drive people out of the insurance market.
"Clearly if the minister goes ahead with this proposal, we're going to have thousands of ordinary families who will drop private health insurance.
"They simply can't afford it as it is. This could increase health insurance premiums by 30pc and they will drop out and put forward pressure on the public hospital system," he said.
"All this will do is drive more people out of the private health insurance market. And it simply beggars belief."