Leo Varadkar, the health minister, has denied claims that he is allowing the Government’s plan for universal health insurance to "slowly wither and die" because of fears it will cost Fine Gael votes.
He said the plan has not been parked, but that it is unlikely to be introduced before 2019 as had been previously stated in the Coalition policy document, Future Health.
He said the full cost of universal health insurance to individuals, employers, and the exchequer will be known next spring “and then we can take the debate from there”.
Mr Varadkar recently said that estimates that a family of two adults and two children would have to pay €3,600 a year are likely to contribute to a postponement of the plan.
Yesterday, he told the Dáil he wants to “examine some key elements further and then decide on the best way forward”, but insisted “this should be considered as a refocusing of our reforms, not an abandonment of them”.
He was responding to questions from Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher, who said the Government should admit that it is abandoning the policy because they know it will be unpopular.
“I am beginning to wonder if this is an election ploy, because the minister knows he is in a cul-de-sac when it comes to the funding of the health services, and that universal health insurance will be a major financial burden on middle-income families,” Mr Kelleher said.
“He is slowly trying to let this policy wither and die.”
Mr Varadkar responded: “To be clear, we are not parking universal health insurance. To me, universal health care includes a number of dimensions, for example, access to general practitioners without fees, which will be tax-funded, and access to primary care.
“It also includes health insurance for everyone across the hospital system, which could be extended into primary care.”
The health budget for next year should be the same as this one. He said no other department has contributed so much to reducing the budget deficit since 2008, with its funding cut from €16bn to €13.7bn.
Mr Varadkar said figures “bandied about in the press” that he is seeking €1.2bn or €900m in extra funding for next year are wide off the mark. He said: “I can state categorically that is not the case. I am seeking to achieve a neutral health budget to enable the department to spend more or less that what was spent this year.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved