From Socialist Voice, January 2011

Private health care is undermining the public health system

The announcement by the biggest health insurance company, VHI, that it was increasing its premiums by amounts ranging from 15 to 45 per cent comes at a time when working people and pensioners have all experienced increases in direct and indirect taxes, including the new “universal social charge” in the December 2010 budget.
     The VHI has lost more than fifty thousand members in the last two years as increasing numbers can no longer afford to pay health insurance because of unemployment or because they have to give priority to buying food or paying the gas or electricity bill.
     According to the VHI, 60 per cent of its subscribers will be faced with an increase of 15 per cent on family plans, while for older subscribers the cost of plan B or plan B with options will rise by 35 and 45 per cent, to €1,224 and €1,430, respectively. The VHI is claiming these increases because of a loss of €147 million for insured patients over the age of seventy.
     The root problem affecting the VHI is not simply the increased costs associated with people living longer but fundamentally relates to the lack of an adequate “risk equalisation” mechanism. This approach was designed to support the principle of community rating, which establishes intergenerational solidarity, because everyone is charged the same premium, regardless of age or risk profile.
     The Chief Justice, Mr Justice John Murray, determined in 2008 that the applicable legislation only allowed for risk equalisation within each plan on the market rather than throughout the market of all insured persons. Under Government proposals, a comprehensive risk equalisation system will not be introduced until 2013.
     As the health service will be increasingly starved of funds, as more and more of the state budget will go towards paying the illegitimate “sovereign national debt,” the pressure on the public health system will only grow. Mass unemployment has always been bad for people’s health, with poor diet and poor-quality food becoming a feature of people’s lives.
     The policy of this Government in giving priority to private medicine will increasingly bear heavily on the public health system. Those who have private insurance will jump well up the queue, or will not have to queue at all. If you wish to get an appointment with a consultant, they ask you whether you wish to go public or private. If you answer “public” it could be a year or more; if you say “private” that same consultant will see you within a few days—one health system for those who can afford to pay and one for those who can’t.

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