Health costs and hospital beds


Sir, – The Minister for Health is determined to push through new legislation to charge all patients with private health insurance for using public hospital beds (Front page, June 15th). This, we are told, will push up premiums by 30 per cent by the end of next year. The Minister has accused the insurance companies of “scaremongering”, and suggested they need to do more to reduce costs. This confirms that this Minister, incredibly, has no understanding of the issues facing the sector.

The Minister’s colleague, the Tánaiste, either through ignorance or expediency, recently cited “excessive professional fees and hospital charges” as the reason premiums were soaring. In fact, professional fees have been reduced by approximately 30 per cent in the past four years, while premiums have been increasing. In addition, we learned in recent days that one of the largest private hospitals in the State lost €9.8 million in the last year, and that this is the norm for most private hospitals built in the last 10 years. It is hardly fair then to say that charges are excessive.

This begs the question – where do the Minister and the Tánaiste suggest the insurance companies start looking to cut costs?

The public health system is on life support, and is entirely dependent on income from private insurance companies to survive. This latest wheeze from the Minister is a blatant attempt to put his hand in the pocket of the insurance companies, essentially “double-dipping”, and is the only reason, as stated unambiguously by those insurance companies, as to why premiums are set to rise.

What the Minister is effectively saying is that if you have health insurance, you are not entitled to access public hospital facilities, even though your tax is already paying for it. This is a disgrace, and possibly unconstitutional, as it denies rights to those with insurance that are afforded to those without.

One obvious solution is the insurance companies should, with immediate effect, withdraw cover for all patients being treated in public hospitals. This would have the effect of reducing premiums significantly. It would also have the effect of freeing up beds and reducing waiting times in public facilities.

Of course, the Minister would then have to find other ways of funding his department and public health system.

The Minister should be encouraging people to take out insurance premiums. Not inhibiting them. – Yours, etc,



Dublin 14.