Press Release

Government publishes Bill to establish life assurance support scheme for people infected with Hepatitis C and HIV through blood products

The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children today (20 June, 2006) announced the publication of a Bill by the Government to establish a statutory scheme to address insurance difficulties experienced by persons infected with Hepatitis C and HIV through the administration within the State of blood and blood products.

The Tánaiste said, ‘This is an important measure to provide further support to people diagnosed with Hepatitis C and HIV as a result of contaminated blood products being administered to them.’

‘Since 1997, it has been clear that infected people’s inability to buy life assurance or mortgage protection policies added further problems to the damage they had already suffered.’

‘With this Bill there will be three forms of recompense: compensation, the special health card and life assurance support.’

‘The Bill also allows for the development of a scheme for travel insurance.’

‘I hope many people will benefit from this scheme, funded by the Exchequer to an amount estimated between €1m and €6.4m per year, for up to 30 years.’

In order to have a consistent approach to all three supports, it was agreed by Government that a Hepatitis C diagnosis in the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Acts 1997 and 2002, and the Health Amendment Act 1996 should be defined in terms of a scientific test, the ‘ELISA test’. A similar scientific test definition of Hepatitis C diagnosis is used in other jurisdictions (UK and Canada) where compensation schemes operate. The relevant sections will come into effect on 20 June, 2006, but do not affect any claims already made to the Compensation Tribunal.

The Tánaiste concluded, ‘The infection of people with contaminated blood products was catastrophic for them. While no monetary support or compensation can ever repair the damage done, these three responses mean that Ireland is doing as much, and more, for victims compared with other countries in similar circumstances.’

Notes

The objective of the Scheme is to provide reasonable access to the insurance market (with certain limitations) for those for whom the cost is prohibitive or cover is unavailable.

The existing supports are:

  • the Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal, and
  • the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, which provides for a range of health care services free of charge.

One of the issues highlighted by the Consultative Council on Hepatitis C from its first meeting in March 1997 was the insurance problem encountered by persons with Hepatitis C (the Consultative Council is a statutory body established to advise the Minister on all aspects of Hepatitis C).

The Department of Health and Children initially obtained advice from life assurance experts on the feasibility of developing an insurance scheme and then a second phase of work established the parameters of the scheme. When the draft scheme was devised, officials worked closely with the representative groups on agreeing the final parameters of the scheme.

Following representations from the Irish Haemophilia Society, it was agreed that the small number of persons infected with HIV only would also become eligible under the scheme (most persons with haemophilia who are infected with HIV also have Hepatitis C).

Persons with Hepatitis C and HIV fall into two categories with regard to insurance matters:

  • those who can get insurance, but only with increased premiums, and
  • those who are deemed by the insurance industry to be uninsurable.

Outline of the Insurance Scheme

The proposed Scheme may be summarised as:

  • the State pays the additional risk premium where the life assurer is willing to provide cover subject to an additional premium and;
  • the State assumes the risk on the life cover where the assurer is not willing to provide this cover.

In each case the person requiring insurance will pay the average basic premium which an uninfected person of the same age/gender would pay.

The Scheme will be available in respect of all standard life assurance policies offered by life assurers who are authorised to transact life assurance business in Ireland and who opt to participate in the Scheme. Life assurers who wish to participate in the Scheme would enter into an agreement to abide by the rules of the Scheme, which would also provide for appeal in the event of a dispute.

The Scheme will be administered under the aegis of the Health Service Executive. Specific details on the administration of the scheme will be set out in Regulations and an administrator will be recruited as soon as possible after enactment of primary legislation.

Main parameters of the Scheme

  • Life assurance to age 75, with a maximum life assurance cover of €400,000 or 7 times the earned income of the Eligible Participant or his/her Partner, or both, in respect of the tax year in which the proposal is submitted, up to a maximum of €500,000. These sums would be indexed in accordance with the Consumer Price Index.
  • Mortgage protection cover up to age 75 on purchasing, changing or improving the primary residence, up to an overall maximum of the Average House Price (Dublin)+ 25% or €375,000, indexed in accordance with TSB/ESRI (Dublin) House Price Inflation;
  • For an initial period of twelve months from the commencement date (or, if later, three years from the date Hepatitis C/HIV is diagnosed) all persons with Hepatitis C/HIV would be entitled to apply for cover under the Scheme. Thereafter, a waiting period would apply, during which full cover may be phased in over two years for the under-50s and three years for over-50s.
  • In order to ensure equity there will be an open period for young people who are not ready to avail of insurance/mortgage protection at this time, until the date of their 30th birthday.
  • The maximum age of entry into the Scheme will be 65 years and the age at which cover will cease will be 75. However, persons up to age 75 will be able to take out insurance cover in the first year of operation of the scheme.

Clarifying provision – spouses and partners

Section 2 amends the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal Acts 1997 and 2002 to clarify that compensation will be awarded to spouses and partners of persons where the relationship had commenced before diagnosis of Hepatitis C or HIV was known. This section will come into effect when the Bill is enacted.

Compensation Awards

To the end of December 2005 a total of approximately €660 million has been paid in awards, reparation fund, legal fees and administrative costs to approximately 2,000 claimants in the Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal. Around 1,000 people were Anti-D recipients, 700 were transfusion recipients, renal patients and persons with haemophilia, and the remainder were secondary claimants or dependents who are entitled to claim under a range of headings including loss of consortium, loss of society, carers’ expenses and so on.

Healthcare costs under the Health Amendment Act are approximately €15 million per annum.