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Ó Caoláin - Concerns over future of VHI

29 November, 2007

Sinn Féin Dáil Group Leader and Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD speaking during the debate on the Voluntary Health Insurance Bill said: "Risk Equalisation is essential but this legislation does nothing to remove the doubts about the future of the VHI as a statutory corporation."

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

"Risk equalisation is essential and has received cross-party support and we are told that the changes made in this Bill are also necessary to ensure the continuation of risk equalisation.

"What this legislation may be leading towards, as distinct from the detail contained within it, is another matter entirely. This Bill does nothing to remove the doubts about the future of VHI as a statutory corporation for which the Government has a special responsibility. The Government has not made its intention clear. But this Government, and especially this Minister, have a privatisation agenda.

"In 2005 the Health Minister Mary Harney said the fact that "more and more people are getting private health care is a good thing. It's a sign of increasing disposable income".

What the Minister did not say was that the increasing number of people taking out private health insurance is also a sign that people are moving away from the public health system because of long waiting lists. A vicious circle has been created. The public health system is allowed to deteriorate. This prompts more people to go private. The for-profit health sector grows richer. And this Government is fattening that for-profit healthcare business as never before - most notably with Minister Harney's flagship project of private hospital co-location.

Many uninsured people are also abandoning the public system and going into debt to pay for private care in order to avoid long waiting lists. In recent years credit unions have reported growing numbers of people taking out loans to fund healthcare. €30 million was lent in this way in 2004 and I presume that that figure has grown.

The reality is that we do not know the total amount of money we spend as a society on health services. We do know that the best use is not being made of this money because it is being applied inequitably and inefficiently in a two-tier system. Approximately 70% of the population pays for their healthcare twice - once through taxes and again through personal health insurance or direct user fees for GP services, medicines and hospital care. Meanwhile the proportion of the population with medical cards is declining. This complex and inefficient funding system has been used by successive Governments to underpin the grossly inequitable two-tier public-private system.

We in Sinn Féin have called for the establishment of a Health Funding Commission which would assess all the money currently being spent on health services both by Government and by citizens in the form of health insurance premiums and user fees. This Commission would not be engaged in a statistical exercise. Its purpose would be to plan the transition to a truly fair and efficient system."ENDS

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