Harney warns over raising taxes to fund universal healthcare


MINISTER FOR Health Mary Harney yesterday warned groups who advocated raising taxes to fund a system of universal health insurance cover that the move could hinder job creation.

Her comments came at a conference on financing universal healthcare in Dublin where Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin advocated putting in place universal healthcare for all when they need it.

Calling for an honest debate on the issue, Ms Harney said the two very different proposals for social health insurance and compulsory private health insurance were often presented as offering unlimited healthcare. But she said one could not construct a healthcare system where every hospital would treat as many patients as turn up as often as they turn up because resources were limited.

“No insurance company can stay solvent if it has to meet unlimited claims with a fixed premium income from its customers. No State insurance fund will stay solvent either,” she said.

The Adelaide Hospital Society, which organised the conference, had said on Tuesday that social health insurance cover for all which would include free GP care, medicines and acute hospital care and treatment, could be introduced in Ireland for the same amount of money that was currently pumped into our health system. It said the new model would see payroll taxes and “sin” taxes such as taxes on alcohol and tobacco diverted into a single social insurance fund to cover everyone.

Fine Gael’s leader Enda Kenny told the conference there had been a massive loss of faith in the health system following a series of spectacular failures.

He said his party, through its fair care policy, would change this. “FairCare will end the two-tier health system, so that everybody will have free or affordable health insurance and equal access will be on the basis of need,” he said.

Such a system could be put in place cost-effectively but it could not be done overnight, he added.

Meanwhile, Labour’s leader Eamon Gilmore said universal health insurance in Ireland was both feasible and affordable.

But he said that in Ireland we need to acknowledge that “the existing state of our public heath service could be one of the biggest obstacles to convincing people that more access to it can be better”.

Sinn Féin’s health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin advocated a universal public health system that provides care to all free at the point of delivery, on the basis of need alone, and funded from a general, fair and progressive taxation policy.