Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill 2020: Committee and Remaining Stages

Section 1 agreed to.

Amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.
SECTION 2
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

I understand amendment No. 1, tabled by the Labour Party and which we were going to support, has been ruled out of order. The other day, the Minister of State alluded to trying perhaps to sort out a solution for these non-EEA students. Will he update us on this please?

I understand negotiations are ongoing. One company was mentioned. There is confusion about the figures. Some have said €650 and others have said it could be down to as little as €160. It is still a lot of money. I understand the departmental officials can meet people such as the Senator to discuss whether there is a way around it.

I thank the Minister of State. We will do just that.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 3 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment.

When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Bill received for final consideration.

When is it proposed to take Fifth Stage?

Question proposed: "That the Bill do now pass."

I welcome the Minister of State back to the House for the annual health insurance bill, which is extremely important. On a positive note, we have to count our blessings in this country that we have health insurance which is affordable for the vast majority of the Irish people. We are also very fortunate there is community rating within health insurance. We are also very fortunate that risk equalisation exists because it means our elderly and vulnerable citizens will get health insurance at the same cost as younger healthier people. This does not exist in a lot of countries. We are very fortunate that it does exist in this country. It is only right that we pay tribute to the health insurance companies, previous Governments and this Government for ensuring health insurance is affordable.

However, we need to look at the red tape and the small print in health insurance in this country. There is an obligation on the health insurance regulator, the companies and, by virtue of this, on the Minister for Health to ensure the various plans available from the four insurance companies that provide health insurance in this country are easy to understand, not complex, straightforward and written in plain English, and that there are no tricks in the small print. There is a job of work to be done in this regard. When people are sick and require hospital care and medical intervention, the last thing they should wonder is whether they are entitled to have certain procedures covered and whether it is only a percentage of a procedure that is covered or a percentage of hospital inpatient care. We need to look at uniformity of health plans. We need to take the complication out of it and we need to make it simple. Health insurance needs to return to plain English and, as I have said, we need to eliminate the small print. With something as important as health insurance we should not have small print. I thank the Minister of State for his time and I commend the fact that the Bill has passed all Stages in the House.

I thank the Senators for their contributions on the Bill, which is discussed every year. During the Second Stage debate on Tuesday, I outlined that the objective and basis of Government policy in the area of private health insurance is to ensure that people have access to affordable private health insurance regardless of their age, gender or health status. This means people who are old or sick do not have to pay more than the young and healthy, whereas in other health insurance systems the level of risk that an individual presents directly affects the premium paid.

The purpose of the Bill is to specify the revised credits and corresponding stamp duty levies to apply on health insurance policies from April 2021. Against the background of some uncertainty about the impact of Covid 19 on the health insurance industry, the credit and levy rates for the next year strike a fair balance between the need to support community rating while maintaining sustainability of the market during these unprecedented times. The 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 thank Senator Conway for his encouraging remarks on this.

Senators Gavin and Hoey raised the issue of non-EEA students. There were issues and many community rated reasonably priced products are on the market and available for students to purchase. Each of the three open membership insurers have started plans that offer coverage in most public hospitals and they range in price from €490 to €520. Insurers also offer young adult rates on many of their products, which further reduce the premium to the full adult premium for a 26 year old person. For example, a starter policy for a 20 year old is available on the market at €183. It is still a lot of money but I am only too happy for the Senator who raised it to meet the officials to see whether we can iron out these issues. Departmental officials are in ongoing engagement with other officials who have responsibility for visa and educational aspects of this issue, including with their colleagues in the Department of Justice and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The Bill will ensure we can continue to provide the necessary support to ensure the costs of health insurance are shared throughout the insured population. I thank all Senators for their contributions to the debate over recent days and for facilitating the passage of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.
Sitting suspended at 1.10 p.m. and resumed at 1.30 p.m.