My Two Cents

February 25, 2009

The HSE is facing more than a €1 billion shortfall in it’s finances this year. Are we surprised? I don’t think so. The HSE is a faceless organisation wasting millions of taxpayer’s money every year to fund it’s quagmire of management levels and all at the expense of frontline healthcare. In a bid to address the budget deficit, the HSE is devising a major cost cutting plan to downsize our health service and you can be sure that it won’t be the HSE to suffer the consequences. While waiting to see a specialist yesterday in an over-crowded out-patient clinic at a large public hospital, I came up with some alternative ideas for the HSE to consider. Instead of solely concentrating on cost-cutting measures in our hospitals, I would suggest that the HSE would be well-advised to look at opportunities to complement our health service.

For starters, let’s look at the area of catering in our hospitals. The catering budget  must be astronomical and yet the wastage of food is phenomenal. Over the years, I’ve had many stays in hospital and I’ve often joked that this provides a saving on the family budget as my board and lodgings when in hospital, are fully covered by my health insurance. I pay dearly for health insurance and am fully entitled to this return. bed-occupancy-rateAll medical card holders when admitted to hospital, are entitled to free care in our public health service. Those patients who are not entitled to a medical card and who do not hold private health insurance, pay a small daily levy for in-patient care. The point I’m trying to make here is that everyone regardless of income, has to budget for their daily nutritional expenses so why should the State or an insurance company be expected to pick up the tab for our food requirements when we’re in hospital? I guarantee you that if patients were  charged for their meals, the wastage of food in hospitals would be radically reduced.  Granted a lot of hospital food is inedible but again if patients were subsidising the cost, the standards would automatically improve.

Another aspect of hospital care which should be addressed, is the way out-patient clinics are managed in our public hospitals. There is no charge for appointments or investigations once a patient is in the public system and like all free services, it is open to abuse. By comparison, those who hold health insurance, must pay-as-they-go to be investigated within the private system, the difference being of course that they enjoy the benefit of shorter waiting times. While private health insurance is fairly comprehensive for in-patient expenses, out-patient expenses are generally poorly reimbursed. I would like to propose that all patients should be expected to pay something towards the cost of their appointments. I believe that a small charge for an out-patient appointment in a public hospital, is not unreasonable. It would not only help to offset budget deficits but would also reduce the number of appointments as public patients would take ownership of their healthcare just like privately insured patients are forced to do. This in turn would free-up non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHD) and reduce overtime expenses for the HSE.

I know I’ll be unpopular for these suggestions but I don’t care as I see it as the right way forward. At a time when the government is asking everyone to shoulder the economic difficulties, we can start by taking responsibility for our own health service. Every single person in this country should have equal, speedy, and efficient access to safe healthcare. At the moment, we have a 2-tier, apartheid health system where those that can afford health insurance, have the fastest access to health care.  Let’s use patient power to save our public health service and stop the degradation planned by the HSE.

And before anyone asks why as a privately insured patient, I was seen yesterday in a public out-patient clinic, let me explain. I had no choice in the matter as I required endoscopic investigation and this service is no longer available in private consulting rooms as a result of the boom in MRSA litigation. MRSA has little to recommend it but in this regard, it has worked in my favour. I got to enjoy an appointment with my own choice of consultant, in perfectly adequate facilities and at the expense of the State.  Point taken?


Make Your Voice Heard

October 20, 2008

Last week the Government caused uproar by announcing plans to scrap the automatic entitlement to a medical card for all over-70’s. Having lulled the elderly into a false sense of security that they would be entitled to free healthcare until the end of their days, they are now trying to claw back on this commitment. There is no denying that this country is facing a serious economic downturn and that harsh cutbacks are required to sustain public finances but this callous plan to target the elderly, is despicable.

Enough has already been said about the bungled campaign to introduce a ‘means test’ for the over-70’s medical card. I have never felt so angry and frustrated by the gross incompetence shown by our Government in their handling of this issue. They are guilty of causing great fear and anguish to those most vulnerable in our society. The comments made over the weekend by our Minister for Health, Mary Harney and our Taoiseach, Brian Cowen have done nothing to allay the fears of the elderly. Now the Government is floundering around trying to find a way out of the controversy created. Our health service is no longer alone in it’s descent into chaos.

A public rally has been organised outside the Dáil at lunchtime on Wednesday to protest against this Government’s attempt to mug the elderly. If you too have been outraged by this medical card débâcle, I would urge you to show solidarity with the elderly and support this protest.

Assemble @ 1pm on Wednesday 22 October in Kildare Street, outside the Dáil.


Going It Alone

August 10, 2008

Do you have private health insurance? If you’re young, fit and healthy, the chances are you’ve never even considered taking out cover. Maybe you are relying on tax relief to ease the blow of medical bills? This is fine although if you develop a serious illness or require prolonged hospital treatment, you could end up in financial trouble.

In Ireland, everyone is entitled to free hospital care, subject to certain daily bed charges or casualty (A&E) fees but thanks to our 2-tier health service, waiting times in the public system tend to be much longer than in private health care. Over a million Irish people, with incomes below a certain level, are covered by the state General Medical Service scheme, for totally free hospital care. However, if you develop a long-term health problem but do not qualify for a medical card or hold private health insurance, you could find yourself in trouble with medical expenses.The more serious your illness, the more costly your treatment. Those on a lower rate of tax, can only claim back 20 percent of their medical costs. If you plan to rely on tax relief to make your medical expenses more affordable, you need to make sure that the treatment or care you receive qualifies for tax relief. The hospitals, doctors, dentists and therapists you see must be approved by the Revenue Commissioners – otherwise, you may not be eligible for relief. Some of the things that qualify for relief include doctors’ and consultants’ fees, prescriptions from a doctor or consultant, treatment in a hospital or approved nursing home, routine maternity care, in-vitro fertilisation, wheelchairs prescribed by a doctor, orthodontic treatment, and surgical extraction of impacted wisdom teeth.

If you have private health insurance, you can still claim tax relief on your medical expenses but only on those expenses which have or will not be reimbursed by your insurer. And remember, if you do not have any health insurance cover whether by choice or because you simply cannot afford it, there is always the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) if you end up needing hospital treatment. If you are a public patient on a public hospital waiting list and have been waiting over three months for an operation or procedure, you may get your treatment free of charge if you qualify for this scheme.

Private health insurance is not an automatic guarantee of financial security – cover can be refused on a technicality or expenses may be only partially covered – but it does offer peace of mind in case of serious illness. The fact that over 50 percent of the population choose to have health insurance cover, says a great deal. While you may be happy to wait, sometimes your health cannot afford the delay.