Seanad debates

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Finance Bill 2012 (Certified Money Bill): Committee and Remaining Stages


3:00 am

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Fine Gael)

I thank Senator Barrett for tabling these interesting recommendations. I am sure the Minister for Finance has more than sufficient on his financial plate and does not wish to stray into the area of responsibility of the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly.

The Minister, Deputy Noonan, put in place the legislation in 1994-1995 which allows competition in the Irish health insurance market, which led to the development of BUPA Ireland. I recall that there was strong resistance at the time from the main player to the concept of competition in health insurance. Since 1994-1995 people on the political side of the health equation have had to endure a huge degree of pressure from the main insurer and its agents. In my view, it has stymied competition in every possible way.

We have had debates on risk equalisation and community rating, which concepts we have no difficulty with it. However, measures introduced in the Oireachtas have been challenged through the Irish courts and in the European Court. I spoke against those measures when a Member of the Dáil and as a Member of this House. Senator Barrett's proposal, as per his amendments, requires reflection. It was stated earlier that one of the miracles of the Minister's last budget was that there was no general decrease in social welfare payments and no general increase in taxation. However, within hours, perhaps days, of the Minister's Budget Statement middle class Ireland was hit once again with huge increases in health insurance premia. The savings brought about as a result of the diligent work undertaken in the Department of Finance were wiped out for many families by the proposed massive increases in health insurance premia. I acknowledge this is a matter more the responsibility of another Department but we must take every opportunity to speak of the need to dramatically reform health insurance and the cost of health care in this country. The only response to the health crisis in Ireland in recent years has been increased charges passed on to the consumer. It is the middle class who are most hit by these increases.

I am interested in hearing the Minister's response to Senator Barrett's recommendations and for the benefit of my colleagues who were not Members of this House when Bupa Ireland was established. The Minister pioneered legislation to allow competition into the Irish health insurance market but it was strongly resisted. I believe the force of resistance would be pleased to wipe every other company off the market again and return to its era of dominance. Our policies must be geared to ensure competition and value for money health insurance. This should be possible. It is not feasible to expect families to pay out thousands of euros every year for health care. While this is not a debate on health, it is hoped we will soon move to the universal health care system. The health insurance market needs to be monitored and competition needs to be protected by every possible measure, including by way of amendments on the Committee Stage debate of the Finance Bill. I am interested in hearing the response of the Minister, Deputy Noonan, to Senator Barrett's amendments given his experience in the Department of Health.


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