VHI ‘could be forced’ to deal with co-location

THE medical group, whose plans to co-locate private hospitals alongside public facilities are in jeopardy because of the VHI’s refusal to provide cover, has called for the private health insurer to be forced to the table.

Michael Cullen, chief executive of the Beacon Medical Group, said yesterday he believes legislation or regulation could be used to force the VHI to offer cover for the proposed private hospitals in Cork, Limerick and Dublin.

“They could be made do this in a number of different ways, either willing or whether they are forced to the table by regulation, by legislation; they are the state insurer,” Mr Cullen said.

Currently, plans for three private hospitals co-located with Cork University Hospital, the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick and Beaumont Hospital in Dublin are under threat because banks are not willing to rubber stamp funds for the projects without a commitment from the VHI.

However, in a strongly worded statement yesterday, the loss-making health insurer said it was “not in the business” of providing guarantees for private hospitals.

“The nature of any private hospital development does and must involve risk taking. Beacon Medical Group is asking VHI Healthcare to guarantee the future economic viability of its proposed co-located hospitals and we are not in the business of providing such guarantees,” the statement said.

The insurer reiterated its view that there is sufficient private hospital capacity in the country.

Speaking on RTÉ radio yesterday, Mr Cullen said the stalemate between the VHI and his group is the sole remaining obstacle to get funding for co-location — first announced as government policy five-and-a-half years ago — from Irish and international banks.

Mr Cullen said he believed it suited the VHI to maintain the status quo as currently it pays for less than half of private patients treated in public hospitals. This is because if a private patient is assigned to a public bed in a public hospital, the VHI does not pay a fee.

“The VHI cover patients going to Beaumont, Limerick and Cork every day. Tonight there’s probably 180 private patients in each of these facilities. However, the VHI only pays for about 50-60 of each of these and, consequently, I believe that is the incentive for the VHI to refuse to engage with us and prevent us from proceeding,” Mr Cullen said.

The co-location plan has been beset by problems and both BMG and Synchrony, a consortium proposing to build a private hospital at the St James’s campus in Dublin, have missed contractual deadlines.

Opposition parties have threatened to “bin it” if in power.


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