Coalition row brews over universal health insurance

A fresh coalition row is emerging over Health Minister Dr James Reilly’s universal health insurance plan, after a Labour minister said the policy is “not very detailed” and may need to be re-examined.

Junior minister at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch made the claim amid ongoing coalition concerns about whether Universal Health Insurance (UHI) can be successfully implemented.

Speaking to radio station Newstalk, the Labour TD and mental health minister rejected claims she and her party colleagues are being kept in the dark on the policy — which is central to Dr Reilly’s health service reform plans.

However, she said a White Paper outlining how UHI will work, which is currently being circulated among government departments, is “not very detailed” and may need to be re-examined.

Noting claims that UHI could add as much as €5bn more in health service costs, she added that “there are still difficulties” over whether the plan can be implemented.

“Yes, there are still difficulties around the whole pricing issue. If it’s at the level that is being talked about then clearly it’s unaffordable,” she said.

Under current plans, UHI could be in place across the country by 2019.

Dr Reilly has repeatedly pointed to the policy — which would ultimately see the removal of a two-tier health service — as key to health service reform.

The policy was first outlined in Fine Gael’s 2011 general election manifesto, with the health minister previously stating that its implementation is the reason he entered politics.

In recent days it has emerged Dr Reilly and Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin disagree over the cost and effectiveness of the policy, with Finance Minister Michael Noonan also becoming involved in the internal coalition dispute.

During an interview with www.irishhealth.com on a number of health election promises before Fine Gael were voted into power, Dr Reilly noted the difficulties of ensuring policies are implemented, saying: “I know there will be blood on the floor and I know some of it will be mine.”


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