‘Irish People Paying €600m More in Healthcare Than in 2007’ – New Research
Posted on: 24 September 2015
Ireland is still a long way off a universal healthcare system with little change in the number of people who can access free healthcare and greater difficulty in accessing hospital treatment and drugs, according to health policy experts who spoke at a seminar in Trinity College Dublin on Tuesday, September 22nd.
Ireland’s lack of a universal healthcare system makes it unique in Europe. Four years ago, the current Government committed to a ‘universal single-tiered health service, which guarantees access based on need, not income’. It promised to do this through universal primary care and universal health insurance.
Early findings from a new research project entitled Mapping the Pathways to Universal Healthcare in Ireland, reveals that there is a huge gap between the intent of universalism and what has actually happened and Irish people are experiencing greater difficulty in accessing healthcare thanks to longer waiting times and higher drug charges. Each person in Ireland had to spend €130 more in 2014 than in 2007 to get the same healthcare. This means that as a whole, Irish people are paying €600 million more for essential drugs and hospital care than in 2007.
Progress towards universal healthcare is in disarray with a series of delays and deferrals, according to this new analysis. Four years later, and after much delay, under six and over 70-year olds have GP care without fees, however, the plans for the extension of free GP care to the whole population are in disarray and the Government’s universal health insurance policy has been shelved, according to the researchers. In addition, new policy measures, such as such as the introduction of life-time community rating and increased prescription drug charges, are making the current system less universal, according to researchers at the Centre for Health Policy and Management in the School of Medicine in Trinity.
- With the exception of free GP care for the youngest and oldest, there has been little change in the proportion of the population who can access healthcare without charge since the government came into power.
- It is more difficult for people to access healthcare, evident in longer waiting times for essential hospital treatment and higher charges for prescription drugs. Each person in Ireland had to spend €130 more in 2014 than in 2007 to get the same healthcare. This means that as a whole, Irish people are paying €600 million more for essential drugs and hospital care than in 2007.
- The introduction of life-time community rating, whereby over 35 year olds are penalised for not taking out private health insurance, demonstrates the Government’s increasing incoherence in policy measures. In the short term, this measure makes the health system less universal as it exacerbates the two tier health system the Government set out to dismantle.
Speaking about the financial barriers to accessing healthcare, Dr Steve Thomas, Associate Professor, Centre for Health Policy and Management in Trinity, who leads the Mapping the Pathways to Universal Healthcare project, said: “Over the austerity period we increased the financial barriers to accessing health care so that in 2014 we required each person in Ireland to spend €130 more than in 2007 to get the same care. This is inconsistent with international and Irish commitments to universal healthcare. We need to reverse this process and as the economy expands dismantle current financial barriers.”
Sarah Thomson, Senior Health Financing Specialist with the WHO, commented on Ireland’s progress towards universal healthcare saying: “Ireland has been late in moving towards universal health coverage, in contrast to most of Europe. To build on recent achievements and make health care accessible and affordable for the whole population, international experience suggests political commitment, clarity of purpose and policy stability will be important.”
Dr Sara Burke, Research Fellow, Centre for Health Policy and Management in Trinity added: “Political choices can move us closer or further away from universal healthcare. Despite commitments to universalism from the current government, policy analysis and indicators shows us Ireland has failed to move closer to it since 2011, apart from the delivery of free GP care to the youngest and oldest.”
Reflecting on the value and impact of the research Graham Love, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board (HRB), said: “We can have all the debates we want in relation to health and health policy, but if we want health policies and health decision making that will work in the long-term, then decisions must be guided by quality evidence. The HRB is committed to supporting Ireland’s capacity to make evidence-informed health policies by investing in the people, the systems and the supports that are necessary to achieve this.”
Speakers at the event included Dr Steve Thomas, Director of the Centre for Health Policy and Management and Principal Investigator on the research project; Dr Sara Burke, Research Fellow and project co-ordinator; Dr Sarah Barry, Research Fellow, Centre for Health Policy and Management, Trinity; Jon Cylus, Research Fellow, London School of Economics; Dr Sarah Thomson, Senior Health Financing Specialist, WHO; Dr Graham Love, Director Health Research Board. The event was chaired by Professor Charles Normand, Professor of Health Policy and Management, Trinity.
Mapping the Pathways to Universal Health Care is a three year research programme which aims to provide an evidence base to inform the strategic direction and implementation of universal healthcare in Ireland. The project is being undertaken by the Centre for Health Policy and Management in the School of Medicine in Trinity and has been funded by the Health Research Board.
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Irish Daily Mail, Wed, September 23rd, 2015
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