I am pleased to have this opportunity to address the House on the Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2019. As Senators will be aware, the Bill concluded its passage through the Dáil last week.
This is a short and technical Bill comprising six sections all focused on the specific issue of health insurance regulation. The provisions outlined in the Bill will ensure the ongoing sustainability of the private health insurance market and seek to keep health insurance policies at an affordable price for all citizens, young or old, sick or healthy. Over 45% of the population in Ireland hold private health insurance. Health insurance in Ireland is provided according to four principles, namely, open enrolment, lifetime cover, minimum benefit and community rating.
Open enrolment means that insurers in Ireland cannot refuse to provide cover to someone who might be a risky customer for them, and there are maximum waiting periods for pre-existing conditions. Lifetime cover means that once a person has health insurance, an insurer cannot stop cover or refuse to renew their insurance, except in very limited circumstances such as fraud. Minimum benefit means that all insurance contracts must abide by regulations issued by the Minister for Health to make sure that everyone who holds health insurance has a minimum level of cover. Community rating means that health insurers cannot alter their prices based on an individual's current or potential health status.
In order to support one of the fundamental principles of Irish health insurance, community rating, legislation is needed each year to update and revise the scheme that enables the sharing of risk across the insured population. As part of the process, the independent market regulator, the Health Insurance Authority, carries out an annual evaluation of the market, focused on the claims costs that every insurer has paid over the year. Based on that analysis, the authority recommends the level of credits and stamp duties that should apply the next year, so that risk may be shared across the market and the principle of community rating is maintained. The rates for next year, recommended by the authority, have been considered and accepted by the Minister for Health and the Minister for Finance. This year's Bill will provide for a general decrease in the credits payable in respect of those aged over 65 years, and there will be some changes in the stamp duty levies on contracts. No amendments were made to the Bill during its passage through the Dáil, the Bill is as initiated.
I will now outline the specific sections of the legislation. Section 1 defines the principal Act as the Health Insurance Act 1994. Section 2 amends section 11C of the principal Act to provide for 1 April 2020 as the effective date for revised credits payable from the fund.
Section 3 amends Schedule 3 to the principal Act with effect from 1 April 2020, whereby the applicable hospital utilisation credits payable from the fund in respect of insured persons are revised. Section 4 replaces table 2 in Schedule 4 to the principal Act with effect from 1 April 2020, whereby the applicable credits payable from the fund in respect of certain classes of insured persons are revised. Section 5 amends section 125A of the Stamp Duties Consolidation Act 1999 to specify the applicable stamp duty rates for 1 January 2020 to 31 March 2020, and from 1 April 2020 onwards. Section 6 provides for the Short Title, commencement, collective citation and construction of the Bill. To summarise, this Bill allows us to maintain our support for the core principle of community rating, which is a long-established and well-supported Government policy for the health insurance market. I commend this Bill to the House.