Seanad debates

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Commencement Matters

Universal Health Insurance

Photo of Paul BradfordPaul Bradford (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister for Health, Deputy Varadkar, to the House and thank him for attending to respond to the matter I have raised. It is a question rather than a motion or statement because my inquiry is simply to seek from the Minister an update on his current plans for either the roll-out of the universal health insurance scheme, as initially conceived, or an alternative to it. We must all be mature enough to accept that it was a big ask and a big expectation not just within the term of the Government but in its second term or some alternative formation of it to roll out such a proposed scheme.

When the Minister took over the health portfolio last year he appeared to bring some new thinking to the table in terms of what the previous Minister, Deputy Reilly, had proposed. The latter proposed a scheme of universal health insurance with good intentions but perhaps the costing was not fully examined. My starting point is that at this stage we must start with a blank page in order to draw up a strategy for future health care delivery. We have examined many models, schemes and proposals which all sounded very plausible initially. We have looked at Dutch, Swedish, Australian and Canadian models, as well as a mixture of models, but we do not appear to have fixed on a particular plan to implement. I am reminded of the Chinese Premier, whose name, of course, I cannot pronounce. In the 1990s when he was trying to reform China, he made the famous statement that, as far as he was concerned, it did not matter whether the cat was black or white as long as it caught the mouse. That is something on which to reflect. Whether it be a private, public or combined scheme, what we need is a scheme which will deliver a top quality health care service to every citizen.

The concept of a universal health scheme sounded very attractive until suddenly it dawned on people that there would be a very hefty insurance fee to be paid by most taxpayers. It could never be a free scheme as somebody would have to pay for it. The Minister might update me on his current thinking on this point. I hope it is fluid, changing and open-minded because we are far from coming up with the perfect solution and a lot more work has to be put into it. As the Minister said when discussing the medical card issue, we have an almost universal education system which is not perfect, but it is reasonably good by international standards and every citizen has access to the prospect of receiving a good education. If we were to aspire to something similar in the health spectrum, it would need a lot of fresh thinking.


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