Independent TD Mattie McGrath has said the revelation that Health Minister James Reilly forced all the country’s health insurers to hike charges following a request from the VHI and against the advice of the sector’s watchdog, is staggering in its disregard for the ordinary policy holder.
Deputy McGrath was speaking after documents obtained by the Irish Independent show the decision by Minister Reilly has resulted in an estimated 300,000 people on the cheaper health insurance policies paying more for their premiums.
Higher fees for basic insurance plans were introduced late last year, in response to concerns that health insurers would otherwise offer cheaper plans to young people while charging the elderly more.
“This latest blunder by Minister Reilly demonstrates that he is incapable of directing the policy of his Department in such a way that does not unfairly penalise those who can least afford to pay these outrageous price increases. I debated the issue of unjustifiable hikes in premiums on October 12 of last year in the House with Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan. On that occasion she explicitly assured me that the Minister for Health has no role to play in the commercial decisions of any health insurer with regard to planned increases in the costs of its insurance products. The Minister also assured me that the Government was strongly committed to protecting community rating, whereby older and less healthy customers pay the same amount for the same cover as younger and healthier people. We now know that those assurances were worthless.”
The Department of Health has said the measures are “designed to result in no overall increase of premiums paid in the market, rather it is intended to spread the risk more evenly between the healthy and the less healthy, as well as the old and the young.” It has made no mention of the fact however that the health sector’s watchdog has been proved right ensuring that the new rules have pushed more young people to cancel their health insurance, with the result that policies were now more expensive for everyone:
“This whole episode is a farce and proves once again that the right hand of Government does not know what the left hand is doing. During that debate last year, which shows how long they have had to come to terms with this, I was promised that the Government’s clear objective is for the health insurance market to remain as competitive and affordable as possible as we move towards a new system of universal health insurance. I was also promised that Minister Reilly would continue to explore any available measures to limit the costs related to health insurance. Is it any wonder that faith in this Government and this Minister in particular is thin on the ground? The Minister and his Department can offer all the assurances they like because talk is cheap, which ironically is the one thing they have insured VHI cover is not,” said McGrath.