Written Answers. - VHI and Independent Hospital Association Dispute.

Charlie McCreevy

Ceist:

31 Mr. McCreevy asked the Minister for Health whether he will consider the appointment of an arbitrator to resolve the dispute between the VHI and the Independent Hospital Association of Ireland; whether he has received any notice of a price increase from the VHI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8804/96]

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

64 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to hospitals that have been unable to reach agreement with the Voluntary Health Insurance Board; the difficulties arising from this lack of agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8819/96]

,Limerick East): I propose to take Questions Nos. 31 and 64 together.

Recently in a reply to a question in the House I said that I had no plans to intervene in the dispute between the Voluntary Health Insurance Board and the Independent Hospital Association of Ireland relating to arrangements for payment in respect of the treatment of VHI members in 18 private hospitals. The parties concerned have not called on me to become involved as both are aware that I am not in a position to intervene in the dispute.

I remain of the view that arrangements relating to the cost of services are matters to be directly negotiated between any health insurer and service providers. I do not have any statutory function in the appointment of arbitrators to resolve commercial disputes between health insurers and service providers. Furthermore, I consider that such a role for me would be wholly inappropriate in the context of the evolving competitive health insurance market for which I, as Minister, am the regulatory authority.

It is a matter for the parties to decide whether they want to pursue the course of referring their differences to arbitration. I would have no objection to such a course being agreed between the two sides.

I am aware that both sides have taken steps to minimise inconvenience to the patient-VHI member. The private hospitals will give the patient the option of assigning the payment of VHI benefit directly to them. The VHI will not require the member to have settled the account before paying benefit; it will make payment directly to the member at the appropriate rate within three weeks of receiving completed claims and supporting invoices and is also prepared to pay the hospitals directly on the assignment of benefit by the member.
I was also asked if I have received any notice of a price increase from the VHI. Section 3 of the Voluntary Health Insurance (Amendment) Act, 1996 requires the VHI to give the Minister for Health specified prior notice of proposals to increase premium charges. I have not to date received any notice pursuant to the provisions of the section.