Pressure to introduce universal health insurance rises

Health Minister James Reilly will come under increasing pressure to introduce proposals for universal health insurance as more people are priced out of the private health insurance market, a leading patient advocate has warned.

Chief executive of the Irish Patients’ Association, Stephen McMahon, said people were becoming concerned at their ability to afford cover with spiralling insurance costs.

Mr McMahon said he had received numerous calls from people who had switched to a more affordable insurance plan and then found they were not covered for certain medical procedures.

“As more people fall back on an overstretched public health system we have a situation where the health insurance companies have fewer members. That is worrying,” he said.

“With private health insurance being put beyond the reach of more families and older people, the minister for health will come under more pressure to publish the white paper on universal health insurance.”

Fianna Fáil’s spokesman on health, Billy Kelleher, said the increase was in stark contrast to the minister’s commitment to bring in universal health insurance.

The VHI has blamed rising customer claim costs for having to increase its prices by an average of 9%.

The insurance company’s price hike is the latest in a series announced by private health insurers. Aviva Health policy prices will increase by 15% next month while Quinn Insurance plans will cost 6% more.

The last general VHI price increase was made in February 2011 and ranged from 21% to 45%.

The chief executive of the Consumers’ Association of Ireland, Dermott Jewell, said his organisation was seeking a meeting with Mr Reilly to discuss private insurance price hikes.

The association is particularly concerned at the 60,000 people who dropped out of the health insurance market last year and the 5,000 leaving every month.

Mr Jewell said the group was also worried that older people were paying the highest VHI increase, a situation that would lead to many simply being unable to renew their policies.

“Many older people, who have contributed to the VHI all their working lives, are now finding they have no right to benefit from it,” he said, adding that private health insurers should cut the cost of their premiums, not hike them.

Dr Reilly said he was hopeful a new Health Insurance Forum involving the main companies in the Irish market would lead to reductions in time.

The forum is due to meet in the coming weeks.

Dr Reilly said he was “very concerned” about inefficiencies within the VHI, and said quite apart from the recent price hikes, an annual increase of 9% by the private health insurer was “not normal.”

He said he would meet the board about this shortly.

“I am re-emphaising my concern that medical costs have risen 9% year-on-year as if it’s normal. And I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that that’s the case. I think they should be reducing.

“I want to know why we are paying what we are paying for a hip. I want to know why we are paying the consultant a fee and a side room fee for procedures that can be carried out in primary care for which there is no side fee.

“There’s a host of areas here which need to be examined.”

More in this section

Puzzles logo

Puzzles hub

Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd