I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 344 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 access is based on need, not on income.
The Department, in consultation with the UHI implementation group, has identified the key building blocks for UHI and arranged them into broad workstreams as follows: primary care reform, hospital structures, hospital financing, regulation of health care providers, health insurance market and overarching UHI design.
Work is progressing under all of these work streams, some examples of which include the drafting of legislation to extend access to GP services without fees to people with prescribed illnesses, the work of the strategic board on the establishment of hospital groups, the significant progress made by the special delivery unit in reducing waiting times for scheduled and unscheduled care, the development of a "money follows the patient" policy, which is due to be published shortly, the development of national health care standards, ongoing work in relation to supporting licensing legislation, and the enactment of the Health Insurance (Amendment) Act 2012 to provide for a new scheme of risk equalisation for the private health insurance market from 1 January 2013. By bringing that clarity to the system, we have allowed a further agent into the market. The reform programme is a major undertaking that requires careful planning and sequencing over a number of years. Full implementation of universal health insurance will take some time to achieve. It is anticipated that the necessary groundwork to enable us to phase in the implementation of universal health insurance, as promised in the programme for Government, will be in place by 2016.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
The Department is preparing a White Paper on universal health insurance, which will provide further detail on the universal health insurance model for Ireland in addition to the estimated costs and financing mechanisms associated with its introduction. This complex and technical work demands a wide range of specialised legal and financial expertise which the Department is in the process of engaging. The White Paper will be published as early as possible in the Government’s term of office. In advance of the White Paper, my Department has produced a preliminary paper on universal health insurance, which I intend to publish shortly. This will provide a more detailed progress report on work in relation to universal health insurance.