Reilly rejects insurers’ claims on premiums

Minister promises new hospital charges will be phased in over four years

Minister for Health James Reilly said today that a Government levy on health insurance would not result in significant premium increases. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien/The Irish Times

Minister for Health James Reilly said today that a Government levy on health insurance would not result in significant premium increases. Photograph: Bryan O'Brien/The Irish Times

Wed, Mar 20, 2013, 19:09

Minister for Health James Reilly has rejected claims by the health insurance industry that a Government levy will result in significant premium increases.

Dr Reilly said there was “no rationale” for the insurers’ claims that subscribers would be driven off cover because of an increase in the levy.

Hetold the National Healthcare Conference there was “one pot of money” involved that went around “in a circle” in the industry. If a company had more older customers it got more of the levy.

He also rejected claims by insurers that plans to charge private patients for the use of all beds in public hospitals would push up premiums by as much as 25 per cent.

The Minister said he accepted that if this change were introduced overnight it would “break” the industry. For this reason, it would be introduced in a phased manner over three to four years. He said it was “ludicrous” that a public hospital couldn’t get paid because of the designation of a particular bed when the consultant was being paid.

Donal Clancy, chief executive of Laya Healthcare, told the conference that the health insurance industry was “critically ill” and could be “terminal” because of the rising costs spiral.

Over 64,000 people left the market last year, most of them young and healthy customers, he said. The Minister’s plans to charge more for private patients using public beds would push up premiums by 25-40 per cent, he claimed, and could be “the final nail in the coffin”.

Dr Reilly strongly criticised costs at the VHI and in the private health industry generally.

He said he had told the State-owned health insurer he wants more robust auditing so that clinicians are challenged on the cost of procedures.

He also wants a “hard look” at the cost of procedures, he said, given that some that used to take two hours now only take 20 minutes. Hospitals shouldn’t be charging by the day but by procedure.

But he said it was unacceptable that public hospitals are not fully paid for two out of every five private patients they treat.

Dr Reilly said he intended to establish a patient safety agency on an administrative basis this year, modelled on international examples in countries such as Canada.

He said the public needed to be involved and empowered in the protection of their own health. A framework document on this issue would be published in the coming week.

A framework document on the future of small hospitals will also be published in the next week or so, he said. This would demonstrate that the future of small hospitals was secure and that no hospital would close.