Private hospitals lobby over legislation

Private hospitals’ association to appeal to European Commission over measures it says would limit choice

Minister for Health James Reilly  plans to introduce legislation later this year to provide public hospitals with greater scope to charge private patients treated in their facilities. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Health James Reilly plans to introduce legislation later this year to provide public hospitals with greater scope to charge private patients treated in their facilities. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Private hospitals are to ask the European Commission to review planned Irish legislation which will allow public hospitals greater scope to charge private patients occupying their beds.

The Independent Hospitals Association of Ireland (IHAI), which represents more than 20 private healthcare centres, has told the Minister for Health James Reilly it believes his proposed legislation in this area “is contrary to EU and competition law”.

It said it would pre-restrict competition, “with a consequential adverse effect on consumers by limiting choice and reducing the quality of care”.

Dr Reilly plans to introduce legislation later this year to provide public hospitals with greater scope to charge private patients treated in their facilities. A spokesman for the Department of Health said yesterday there were no plans to change the current 20 per cent cap on the number of hospital beds designated for fee-paying patients.

However, not all private patients can be accommodated in designated beds. Sometimes they are already occupied by other private patients, or in use for infection control. It is estimated charges are not raised in respect of about half of all private patients.

Subsidising private sector
The Department of Health said revenue public hospitals received for services to private in-patients did not cover the cost of those services. It said the figure of €250 million that had been mentioned was one of a number of estimates of the value of this subsidy.

“ It is unreasonable to expect public hospitals to continue to subsidise private health insurance companies to this level on an ongoing basis, as the Government believes that the users of private services should pay for the costs of providing those services.”

IHAI chief executive Catherine Whelan said yesterday the proposed legislation would provide short-term cashflow to public hospitals, but would have long-term consequences for the entire health system.

“This is a means of raising money by charging privately insured patients for using a public bed in a public hospital; which, as citizens, they are entitled to and have already paid for through their taxes,” she said.

“The 21 hospitals within the independent sector are in active competition with each other on a daily basis . . . We are also in competition with public hospitals but this is not on a level playing field.”

It is understood the |IHAI is concerned the proposed legislation would have implications for the market, coming on top of measures introduced by the Government in recent months in relation to the operation of a new risk equalisation scheme.