Minister 'very concerned' at VHI's annual increase of 9%


MINISTER FOR Health James Reilly yesterday said he remained “very concerned” about inefficiencies within the VHI and said quite apart from the recent price hikes an annual increase of 9 per cent by the private health insurer was “not normal”.

Speaking in Tralee, Dr Reilly said he was meeting with the board “shortly” about this.

“I am re-emphasising my concern that medical costs have risen 9 per cent year on year as if it’s normal. And I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that that is the case. I think they should be reducing. I want to know why we are paying what we are paying for a hip. I want to know why we are paying the consultant a fee and a side room fee for procedures that can be carried out in primary care for which there is no side fee. There’s a host of areas here which need to be examined,” Dr Reilly said.

The Minister also said he commended the open display of fees as instanced recently by two Killarney GPs in opening their practice this week. “I commend the open display of fees for professionals” and this was why he was opening up the general medical service to suitably qualified practitioners “to increase competition for the benefit of the consumer”.

Dr Reilly was speaking in Tralee during a visit to the town’s €10 million community hospital which has yet to open, three years after completion. Built to accommodate 50 elderly people, the number of beds has now been reduced to just 21 because of the Health Information and Quality Authority’s registration requirements, which are ongoing, and also because some of the beds are now to be allocated for the rehabilitation of patients of all age groups from nearby Kerry General Hospital.

Dr Reilly and Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, who was accompanying Dr Reilly, were met by angry protests after they approached a group of elderly people and their relatives who were kept outside the gates. “You’re a disgrace, Jimmy. You promised us at the door . . .” said PJ Rohan, the son of the late Ellen Rohan, who was one of the original campaigners for a community facility for Tralee.

The Minister said he had worked to open the hospital and “this was why I have brought Mr Reilly down here to meet you”.

Others shouted: “What’s it going to open for . . . when are you going to tell them to open it”?

There were also complaints by the group that they were not being allowed in to see the facility.

Afterwards, Dr Reilly said it was “very upsetting” to see such a beautiful new building lying idle. He was ordering a review which would take two to three weeks and he would meet the campaign group again.

Dr Reilly said he was looking at a possible exchange of facilities whereby the accommodation now in Kerry General Hospital for the elderly could be used for rehabilitation. “I am not going to con anyone . . . I am not going to make promises I can’t keep when I don’t know what I am dealing with.

“I have learned my lessons from that,” he said.