Harney rejects universal healthcare proposals on economic grounds

HEALTH Minister Mary Harney shot down proposals for a universal health system warning that giving an unlimited number of procedures to an unlimited number of patients would bankrupt a hospital or government.

Opposition parties supported plans by the Adelaide and Meath Hospital Society for a one-tier health system funded by universal premiums rather than through general taxation.

A key part of the ring-fenced funding would come from €2.2 billion in “sin” taxes, coming out of excise charged on tobacco and alcohol – a plan backed by Labour.

But Ms Harney was pessimistic about the plans for universal healthcare, disagreeing that any government would have a ring-fenced health fund. The society’s proposal to save 3% on payrolls in the health system to feed the fund was also likely to be met with huge contractual problems, she added.

“The reality is that we have a limited amount of money,” Ms Harney told doctors and health professionals at the Dublin launch.

Ms Harney also ruled out proposals to abolish the Health Service Executive (HSE), warning that a return to the system of 11 health boards and the 273 officials on them would be disastrous.

Earlier, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny told delegates that his party backed parts of the society’s proposals, most notably where people would be treated on the basis of their medical needs rather than their ability to pay.

The health system had “catastrophically failed” with “recurrent patterns of disaster” and the public and patients had therefore lost faith in it, he claimed.

Under the party’s Fair Care proposals, people in five years time would be treated for the same price indifferent of their needs and responsibility for the health system would be restored to the minister rather than the HSE, delegates were told.

Fine Gael supports a pay-per procedure system. “We wouldn’t have a system where X-rays wouldn’t be checked or letters wouldn’t be opened because consultants wouldn’t be paid then,” added Mr Kenny.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said his party had backed plans for a universal health care system for a decade.

Ireland has three beds for every 1,000 people and the battle to change this would be won “in the offices, on the doorsteps and in the canteens” through campaigning, he stressed.

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