FINE Gael has pledged to abolish the two-tier health system by introducing mandatory health insurance for everybody — but admits the move would take five years to achieve.
Under the proposed system, each citizen would be obliged to buy an insurance policy that would provide a standard healthcare package. This would include free GP visits and medication.
Insurers would have to offer this package at the same cost to all citizens, although persons could buy additional cover for non-essential treatment such as cosmetic surgery if they wished.
Medical card holders would get their standard package for free, while low-income earners would be heavily subsidised.
Existing private health insurance holders would pay no more for the package than they did for their old cover, Fine Gael pledged.
But neither party leader Enda Kenny nor health spokesman Dr James Reilly was able to say exactly what the cost of the standard package would be.
Nor were they able to say how much the 16% of the population who are neither medical card holders nor private insurance holders would pay under their proposals.
Final costs couldn’t be determined now as the universal health insurance model would not be introduced until year five of the “Fair Care” plan, Mr Kenny said.
The party later clarified this, with Dr Reilly saying a person among that 16% would pay no more than €200 a year.
In the first two years of the plan, Fine Gael would set about reducing hospital waiting lists by mirroring a system that proved successful in the North. The Health Minister would be made directly responsible for meeting the targets involved.
Greater focus would be placed on creating a network of primary care centres in local communities. These would offer X-ray, ultrasound, physiotherapy and other services, and ease the pressure on hospitals.
In years three and four, the party would introduce a “money follows the patient” system whereby, instead of having fixed budgets for a year, hospitals would be paid on the basis of how many patients they treat. Patients would therefore become a “source of income” rather than being seen as a “cost”.
Fine Gael would then introduce the universal health insurance system in year five, based on the model operating in the Netherlands.
“The Netherlands spends only slightly more than us on health on a per capita basis, but has minimal waiting lists and is ranked number one in Europe for health,” Mr Kenny said.
Dr Reilly said Ireland’s health system was ranked just 15th in Europe for quality and 24th in terms of value for money.
Fine Gael would aim to drive the service “well into the top 10” in both categories over the course of the five years if in power.
The party said its proposals could be delivered on a cost-neutral basis, meaning the price would not exceed the €16bn a year currently spent on the health system by the Government.
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