Private health insurance should not be necessary in the first place

Probably the worst aspect of the outrageous VHI premium hikes up to 45 per cent as announced this month is the fact that, with so many millions pumped into the public health service over the years, people in this country need to have private health insurance at all. Not so long ago — a mere six months ago actually — the outgoing chief executive of the HSE - Professor Brendan Drumm, suggested that improvements in the HSE were so progressive it would make complete sense for everyone to use the public health service. He consequently foresaw a day where people simply would not have a need to take out private health insurance at all.

In the same interview in the July 25 issue of the Sunday Tribune, Professor Drumm reported that due to improvements in the way the HSE operates, “patients who had an acute event such as a heart attack do not gain anything from having private insurance, with the main advantage coming from the ability to have ‘elective’ work such as hip replacements or angiograms done more quickly”. He also envisaged a time when he personally “would no longer require private health insurance” and would consider dropping his policy, which he had already downgraded considerably.

“I certainly think we are close to a point where a lot of people will exit it, and I am sure that would include people like myself,” he said, concluding that he would likely drop his health insurance when he exited his post.

Whether the good professor stayed true to his word and saved himself a few bob in the process remains to be seen, but right now, regardless of whether the HSE ever makes improvements to its services again, many people will also be making the same decision to quit their private health insurance — but not with the same sense of joie de vivre. Indeed, for so many, especially those elderly who for years and years have remained loyal to the VHI, deciding to quit their private health insurance is something they are loathe to do, but financially they are left with no option. Having to go down this road is not only totally unfair but very upsetting. In return for their dedication and consistent premium payments over the years, their reward is to be cast out and abandoned — left without the very strong psychological crutch of having private health care cover should the dreaded, unexpected, ever happen.

Because the fact is, private health insurance is as much an emotional and psychological crutch for people as it is financially reassuring. People do not necessarily tend to get sick more often when they have cover, precisely because they actually do have cover. It’s like when you get a medical card — at the start you might go to the doctor every second day, but after a while the novelty, as such, wears off, so you stop going altogether unless you genuinely are terribly ill. It is such human tendencies that make it possible for systems such as insurance and subsidised health care to work in the first place.

This latest astronomical hike proposal raises the question as to whether there exists a vested interest actually working against providing a public health system so efficient that it will rule out demand for private health insurance. Despite Mary Harney’s plans to privatise the VHI as part of a move to level out risk equalisation and the share of older clients among providers, it just doesn’t ring true that continuing inefficiencies in the HSE must persist leaving health services inadequate and cutbacks ongoing.

Obviously the only way around this latest hike is for people never to get sick at all and to stop growing old. Alas, science has as yet to catch up with such requirements.

In the interim, the public would be well advised to try and stay as healthy as possible all by themselves — tough luck to those suffering with inherited conditions and age-related illnesses.


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