Howlin’s department producing ‘fantasy figures’
Minister for Health James Reilly determined to press ahead with plans for introduction of universal health insurance, sources say
Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin addresses a workshop at the Labour Party conference in Enfield on Saturday. Photograph: Alan Betson
As the internal Government row over proposals for universal health insurance continued over the weekend, highly placed health sources maintained the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had been producing “essentially fantasy figures” in relation to this and other issues involving the health service.
Health sources maintained it was the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that came up with the target in the budget last October of saving €113 million from medical card probity measures, but when the issue was fully analysed it was realised this could not come anywhere near to being achieved.
Sources said Minister for Health James Reilly was determined to press ahead with plans for the introduction of universal health insurance, which, they maintained, represented a “bedrock policy of the Government”.
The Irish Times reported on Saturday that the Department of Health had in effect accused Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin of seeking to frustrate Dr Reilly’s reform plans by making exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims about his proposals for universal health insurance.
This came in response to a letter sent by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform last Wednesday in which it argued Dr Reilly’s proposals could put the State’s financial stability at risk.
The letter said the standard package of universal health insurance could cost up to €1,672, which the State would pay in full or subsidise for some. It claimed medical card holders would have to pay drug costs of about €700 a year.
Some in Fine Gael are suspicious that Labour is trying to unpick a policy that the senior Coalition partner claims has been agreed twice already – in the Programme for Government in 2011 and in a “future health” policy document in 2012.
On Saturday Mr Howlin denied there were tensions between him and Dr Reilly and said he had not seen his department’s criticisms of the universal health insurance proposals.
“I have been a strong supporter of universal health insurance, as has the [Labour] party, since my own time in the Department of Health and it is an agreed part of the Programme for Government,” he said.
Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White said the Department of Public Expenditure was only doing its job in subjecting the policy to “rigorous analysis”.
The Department of Health said claims “by unnamed sources” that the two Labour Ministers of State at the department, Mr White and Kathleen Lynch, had been kept in the dark about the plans for universal health insurance were not accurate and betrayed a lack of understanding of the process.
A spokesman said: “The draft [White Paper] was supplied by the department to all three Ministers in the Department of Health at the end of last year.”