Reilly policy must ‘come at the right price’ - Burton

FG fear Labour trying to unpick key plan

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. File Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. File Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

Sat, Feb 15, 2014, 15:25

A Labour Party minister has said Minister for Health James Reilly’s universal health insurance (UHI) policy has to “come at the right price”.

Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton’s comments come after Dr Reilly was warned by the Department of Public Expenditure the policy could put the State’s financial stability at risk.

She also criticised the Dutch healthcare system, on which Dr Reilly’s plan is based, and said it led to higher costs for patients and consumers.

Some in Fine Gael are suspicious that Labour is trying to unpick a policy which the senior Coalition partner claims has already been agreed.

The Irish Times also reported that Dr Reilly’s officials accused their counterparts in Public Expenditure of attempting to frustrate or delay their reforms and of making exaggerated claims.

Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin this morning claimed he had not seen any of the exchanges because they took place between officials and had not yet reached ministerial level.

Mr Howlin claimed such exchanges were a normal part of policy formulation, and Ms Burton said: “I think that kind of robust discussion is part of what is necessary in Ireland in terms of spending.”

The Labour deputy leader also said it is extremely important polices are rigorously examined to prevent Celtic Tiger style “grandiose” projects.

“Remember, the economy crashed, elements of it were due to grandiose expenditures and policies and tax breaks that basically made the boom boomier to use another quotation and in the end everything crashed. So I think it is absolutely important that there would be robust discussions.”

She also said the commitment to UHI is “an extremely important commitment in the Programme for Government but I think it has to be at the right price”.

“Certainly when I have been in other European countries, and certainly having met people from the Netherlands, some of their pricing is extremely high.”

Ms Burton was on the Labour negotiating team for the Programme for Government and said there was a clear commitment from both parties to keep prices down.

“What was very clear on the part of both parties we were going to do that in a way that would maximise efficiency, delivery, but also be very sharp on not having undue price rises for families and individuals.”