This Bill is being introduced mainly to give effect to an amendment of the scope of the National Health Insurance Acts. At present non-manual workers are not insurable if their rate of remuneration exceeds £250 a year. When the scheme was first introduced in 1911 the figure adopted was £160 and that figure was increased to the present level in 1920. As members of the House know, there have been increases of wages recently and there has been a great change in the value of money. Numbers of persons have passed out of insurance as a result of increases in wages in the last six months and also through the payment of bonus during the emergency.
These persons who have passed out of insurance could, if they wanted, become voluntary contributors but our experience has been that very large numbers of them have not taken advantage of the sections in the national health insurance code which permit voluntary contributions, possibly because of delay in making the necessary decisions to become voluntary contributors until some months have elapsed after the end of their compulsory insurance, when they would have to meet in one sum the accumulated arrears of weekly contributions. There has been for some time a feeling in the Dáil and everywhere else that the remuneration limit should be raised. The Dáil provided for a maximum of £400 and as a result of what was almost universal feeling in the House this was again increased to £500. The section does not apply to persons employed on non-manual work who, in general, are insurable, irrespective of their rate of remuneration. When we decided to introduce this Bill we thought we would take the opportunity of re-enacting in permanent from the provisions of an Emergency Powers Order made in June of last year. Parts II, III and IV give effect to that decision. Part II contains five sections of which the first is designed to cover cases in which contributions were paid irregularly but in good faith in respect of persons who had passed out of insurance, as frequently happened during the emergency, when emergency bonus brought a non-manual worker's remuneration over the insurance limit.
We have provided in this section that such a person shall be treated as if he were an insurable person in the periods in respect of which the contributions were paid, with the usual rights of benefit. This also has the important effect of continuing the protection of the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Acts because persons insured under the Health Acts are automatically also insured under the Pensions Act. Section 3 increases the "free" period of insurance from one year to 18 months and arises out of the introduction of a yearly, instead of a half-yearly, card. For the sake of economy in administration and accountancy a yearly card has been introduced. The remaining three Sections 5, 6 and 7, deal with the insurance of soldiers, particularly those soldiers who enlisted for the duration of the emergency, a type of enlistment which was not visualised when the main provisions in relation to the insurance of soldiers were made in the National Health Insurance Act, 1936. Up to now such persons had to have at least two years' service.
Part III gives such effect, as is now necessary, to the merging on 30th September last of the membership engagements and assets of the Military Forces (International Arrangements) Insurance Fund in National Health Society. The state had been then reached when it was pointless, and wasteful in administration, that this small body, consisting of between 1,000 and 5,000 members, should remain apart from the National Health Insurance Society which dealt with the remainder of the insured population. No former member of the fund will lose in any way by reason of the merger.
This covers members of the British forces who served in the first World War and who, because of their medical condition, were not considered as good subjects for insurance by the then nonunified insurance societies. We provide for the continuity of the records through which we negotiate with the British Government on behalf of these people. Part IV deals with persons who are in receipt of pensions from the British Government in respect of disablement arising out of the recent war. Broadly speaking, former members of the British forces who are in receipt of pensions in respect of 100 per cent. disability will not get sickness or disablement benefit until they re-qualify by engaging in insurable employment for prescribed periods and persons in receipt of British civil pensions in respect of war disablement will be treated as if the pension was an award under the Workmen's Compensation Acts. The principle of the provisions is sound. The Acts are framed on the basis of normal incidence of illness and national health insurance funds should be protected against claims for benefit arising directly from war causes, by persons in receipt of pensions in respect of their disabilities.
Part V is the only part containing new provisions. The first two sections of that part are mainly accounting. Section 17 provides that in lieu of the present two-ninths State grant on the expenditure of benefits and administration, the sum to be paid in 1947-48 and in subsequent financial years will be such sum as is estimated would be paid under the old provision.
The amendment arises out of proposals which will be before the Oireachtas when the Estimates are under consideration and is introduced solely in the interests of accounting simplicity. The National Health Insurance Fund will neither gain nor lose under the arrangement. Members of the House know that the Government provides a subsidy of two-ninths of the expenditure for the pensions and administration of the National Health Insurance Society, and if we now arrange for an increase in benefits to be paid by the State entirely, that alters the method of calculation and disturbs the previous arrangements whereby two-ninths were paid. This section is in order to provide for that contingency and avoid a vast amount of complicated accountancy. Section 18 merely enables the Minister for Finance to invest moneys held for the National Health Insurance Fund in any securities authorised by law for the investment of Savings Bank funds. It will be recalled that not long ago the Minister for Finance was enabled to invest moneys in any security authorised by law which would include also temporary advances in Exchequer bills. The remaining section in Part V, Section 19, as already explained, provides the main reason for the Bill. Members of the House will, therefore, be aware that a considerable portion of this Bill relates to implementing and passing into permanent law an emergency powers Order and the remainder relates principally to the proposal to increase the maximum remuneration rate for National Health Insurance Society and widows' and orphans' pension purposes.