I propose to take Questions Nos. 17, 38 and 78 together.
The Government is embarking on a major reform programme for the health system, the aim of which is to deliver a single-tier health service, supported by universal health insurance (UHI), where where access is based on need, not on income. Under UHI, every citizen will be insured and will have equal access to a comprehensive range of curative health services. A new Insurance Fund will subsidise or pay insurance premia for those who qualify for a subsidy. I want to assure the Deputy that this Government is committed to the introduction of a universal health insurance model and is of the view that this model of healthcare will deliver the necessary reform of our healthcare system.
In designing the precise model of care on which universal health insurance will be based, I want to ensure that it meets the needs of the Irish system and achieves the best outcomes for patients. This requires that we carefully plan and sequence the reform programme and that we give detailed consideration to the most appropriate structures for delivery of different services. We also need to look at the relationships between services, and at best practice in healthcare reform.
To help us in this work, I established an Implementation Group on Universal Health Insurance in February of this year. The Group is tasked with assisting the Department of Health in developing detailed and costed implementation proposals for universal health insurance and in driving the implementation of various elements of the reform programme. The Group consists of a mix of those with executive responsibilities within the health service and external expertise, including international experts.
The Implementation Group has already met on five occasions and has advised the Department in relation to its work on some of the core building blocks for UHI, including the introduction of a Money Follows the Patient funding system and the creation of Hospital Groups.
The Group will also assist my Department in preparing a White Paper on Universal Health Insurance. The White Paper will outline details of the UHI model in addition to the estimated costs and financing mechanisms associated with the introduction of universal health insurance.
Preparation of a White Paper is a complex and technical process. It will require significant research and financial modelling to support analysis and costing of different design options. This, in turn, demands a wide-range of specialised expertise. Officials in my Department, in consultation with the Implementation Group on UHI, are putting in place a process to ensure the provision of this expertise to feed into the Department’s preparation of the White Paper. This work is ongoing at present with a view to ensuring that the White Paper will be published as early as possible within the Government’s term of office.
To complement the work of the Implementation Group on UHI, I also established the Health Insurance Consultative Forum in February of this year. The Forum comprises representatives from the country's main health insurance companies, the Health Insurance Authority and the Department of Health.
This Forum has been established with a view to generating ideas which would help address health insurance costs. Its core focus is on identifying ways of addressing costs throughout the industry, whilst always respecting the requirements of competition law.
Bilateral meetings have taken place with each insurer where they have brought forward their own ideas for cost savings in the market. The Forum will also give a voice to the insurers in the development of the new Universal Health Insurance model.