Public will not support health insurance plan until cost clear

Oireachtas health committee is expected to hold public hearings on the care package

Oireachtas health committee chairman, Jerry Buttimer is to hold hearings on the plans for universal health insurance. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Oireachtas health committee chairman, Jerry Buttimer is to hold hearings on the plans for universal health insurance. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 13:57

The Government wants to create a sense of “ownership” and “buy in” among the public with Minister for Health James Reilly’s plans for universal health insurance.

With that in mind, the Oireachtas health committee is expected to hold public hearings on what the basic package of care to be provided under UHI will be.

Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, the committee chairman, was previously tasked with managing a divisive health issue for the Government: the hearings on the abortion bill.

Now he is being asked to repeat the trick with UHI, which Labour feels lukewarm at best towards, despite their public statements.

But while the public may be consulted, it is still the politicians who will decide on what shape it will take, and therefore, how much it will cost.

In effect, it means the fights we have seen in recent weeks have been postponed for a year.

No specified timeframe has been outlined yet for the public consultation period, and when the resulting proposals will go back to the Government.

The Irish Times reported this week that the Government will not make any decision on implementing Dr Reilly’s plans for at least a year until a “major costing exercise” is completed.

While this costing exercise was expected to complete by spring 2015, the public consultation could push out this timeframe.

Yet no matter how much public consultation is planned, there will be no “buy in” unless the average person knows exactly how much this is all going to cost them.

In the background hovers the claim by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform that it will cost €1,600 per person annually.

The reality is the public will not take “ownership” of UHI until it knows how much it will cost them.