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Speech by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny TD At the launch of White Paper on Universal Health Insurance

2nd April 2014 - Ken Gaughran

3 years ago the Irish people voted for Change. Change in the way we run our economy. Change akin the way we manage our finances. Change in our health system.

The publication today of a White Paper on UHI sends a very clear message: We intend to deliver on that promise of change.
The Minister for Health’s reform plan represents a once in a generation opportunity to help build a health system which is fit for purpose in a modern republic. A health system which truly places the patient at the heart of all that it does.

Some people may argue that now is not the time for radical reform of the health system. That we should wait until the current financial crisis has ended. I respectfully disagree. Because real reform only ever happens at a time of crisis. Despite all of the resources made available to the health system between 1997 and 2007 there was very little real change. The end result is what we see today: A two-tier healthcare system which is unfair, because it allows some people to buy faster access to treatment, and unaffordable because it has delivered significant duplication and inefficiency. It is also inequitable because it denies people treatment when they need it.

Today’s White Paper offers a clear vision of how we can create a single tier system of UHI in which everyone is treated the same.

Because everyone has insurance and access to free GP care.

A system in which care is based on a person’s need and not on their income.

The model of UHI being proposed is based on an examination of UHI systems in a number of other countries. But ultimately the Minister for Health is proposing a model of healthcare that is best suited to the circumstances of Ireland. At the core of this new model are four key values: Equality, choice, social solidarity and value for money.

Under UHI everyone will gain from the new healthcare change:

Everyone will be treated equally and have their choice of insurer.

Those with existing health insurance will now for the first time have primary care services included

Those on medical cards will continue to have access to services without the long waiting times

Those on lower incomes who can’t afford insurance will be assisted by the State.

The inclusion of Free GP Care in the overall UHI package will offer further financial assistance to this group, particularly if they have children.

Importantly, the White Paper also outlines a series of measures to help ensure that there is rigorous cost control. So that UHI will not cost more than the two tier system which it replaces.

A comprehensive consultation process with the Irish people on the White Paper will now begin, focused on what services should be included in the UHI basket of services. An expert Commission, working alongside the Department of Health, will offer a series of fully costed options to the Government on this basket by early 2015. These options will, in turn, be reviewed by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health. However, it will be for the Government to make the final decision on the composition of the UHI basket before legislation is drafted to roll out full UHI by 2019.

Before then, there are a number of important stepping stones that are necessary to pave the way for the introduction of UHI. Delivering the first phase of Free GP care to children aged up to 5 in 2014 is a major step on this path. This legislation will be published in the next couple of weeks with a view to been passed in the House before the summer break.
I hope that as many people as possible, both stakeholders and citizens, will engage in that consultation process. To help us deliver the kind of world class health system that the Irish people both need and deserve.

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