TAOISEACH ENDA KENNY has said the long-anticipated White Paper on Universal Health Insurance (UHI) will be published “in a couple of weeks” amid pressure from the opposition benches on an apparent lack of action on the plan.
At the end of a long Leaders’ Questions exchange on the issue with Michéal Martin, Kenny emphasised four times that the policy document would be out “very soon”.
This evening, a government spokesperson said that the White Paper will come before Cabinet next week and confirmed that if agreed it could be published as early as next week.
Cabinet held a lengthy discussion on UHI proposals today with ministers said to have agreed on the need for a “widespread consultation on a number of key issues”, including with the Oireachtas Health Committee on issues such as what services should be covered under an insurance package.
But the spokesperson insisted the White Paper is not a Green Paper – the name usually applied to documents put out for consultation. A timeline of how UHI will be implemented is likely to be outlined in the document when it’s published. The spokesperson said it contains “a huge amount of detail”.
Earlier the Fianna Fáil leader again reiterated his accusation that the coalition had been dragging its heels on the issue, and feigned disbelief at Kenny’s repeated assertions.
This afternoon’s session began with Martin asking whether the Government had kicked the decision on implementing James Reilly’s healthcare plan down the road for at least a year.
He referred to a Cabinet memo leaked to the Irish Times, which stated that no decision would be taken to advance implementation of UHI before a “major costing exercise” is completed.
The memo stated that the radical plan wouldn’t be given the green light until estimates of the “average premium costs to be paid by individuals” could be given to ministers.
Martin called on the Taoiseach to “publish that draft memo” as “people would like to know the potential cost to them” of the new health insurance scheme.
“Is it the case that you have deferred making a decision is relation to minister Reilly’s plans?” Martin asked.
He asked whether the Taoiseach accepted that “there will be an increase in overall health expenditure to the Exchequer” as a result of its implementation.
“And that there will actually be an increase to the costs of many individuals who currently have health insurance?”
Martin also referred to concerns about the UHI plan raised by Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin.
Responding, the Taoiseach said the Government had not put off a decision on UHI until next year, adding:
“I do not accept the premise of your remarks about an increase in costs for the individual”.
He said a decision had been taken at Cabinet to confirm “the principal” of health insurance but that “clearly there’s a need for a process of consultation with people so that everyone understands what’s involved here”.
Back on his feet, Martin again called on the Taoiseach to publish the memo circulated to ministers, and asked when the White Paper would be out, saying they country had waited three years for its publication.
He said there was currently a “huge uncertainty” around the private health insurance market and that families around the country were dealing with a “massive increase in premia, and a reduction in the tax relief available to them”.
Once again, he accused the coalition of offering “no detail” on the long-mooted plans for a UHI scheme.
“You’ve had your little rant there,” the Taoiseach responded.
“I don’t accept your assertion at all that this is an attempt to put Universal Health Insurance, and it being explained to people, out beyond the next general election.”
Kenny said that “long before” that date the plan would be explained “so that everybody understands the value of having a single-tier system as against a two-tier system”
He defending Minister Reilly’s plan, saying “this works in most other countries in Europe” and said the proposals were about “equity of treatment and access of treatment”.
Amid repeated heckling from the Fianna Fáil benches, the exchange ended with the Taoiseach’s promise on the publication of the policy document.
“This is about getting it right becuse it’s going to apply to every person in the country,” Kenny told the chamber.
“Everyone will have their say on it.”
- additional reporting Hugh O’Connell
First published 3.49pm