New Insurance Scheme and other Supports for Persons Infected with Hepatitis C and HIV, based on an Internationally Recognised Scientific Test
The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney TD, announced on 20 June 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. This important measure addresses the problems faced by these persons due to their inability to purchase mortgage protection and life assurance policies as a result of contaminated blood products being administered to them.
The Government acknowledges in the strongest possible terms that the infection of people with contaminated blood products was catastrophic for them. While no monetary support or compensation can ever repair the damage done, Ireland is doing more for victims compared with other countries in similar circumstances. No other country has introduced an insurance scheme and this Bill shows that the State is committed to working with the victims of infection to provide all supports possible to them. The scheme will cover the insurance risk for the 1700 or more people entitled to avail of assurance products, regardless of any other medical conditions these people may have, once they pay the standard premium that an uninfected person of the same age and gender would pay.
With the enactment of this Bill there will be a third form of recompense. The first is compensation, through the Hepatitis C and HIV Compensation Tribunal, which to date has awarded over €660 million to around 2,000 people. The second is the special health card. Healthcare costs under the Health Amendment Act are approximately €15 million per annum. The third, with the enactment of this Bill, will be life assurance support. This will cost an estimated of €90 million over the lifetime of the scheme.
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’, or alternatively if the person has displayed symptoms of acute infection with jaundice up to 16 weeks after administration of the infective agent.
The symptoms linked with Hepatitis C include tiredness, aches and pains and depression. Many such symptoms are common to a number of conditions not associated with Hepatitis C. In order to ensure that the support schemes operate in a fair and equitable manner and that those determining eligibility under the schemes use clear consistent criteria, it has been decided that diagnosis will be determined by means of an internationally accepted test. A similar scientific test definition of Hepatitis C diagnosis is used in other jurisdictions (UK and Canada) where compensation schemes operate.
It should also be noted that the Expert Group on Hepatitis C which is chaired by the Department’s Chief Medical Officer and includes representation from leading liver consultants and a member of Positive Action, agreed in 1998 that eligibility for the Health Amendment Act Card should be on the basis of a positive diagnostic test for Hepatitis C.
In relation to the question of consortium, the Bill proposes 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. New partners or spouses of infected persons who knowingly entered relationships after the diagnosis of Hepatitis C is known, will be unable to claim damages for loss of consortium. However, other headings of claim for compensation by persons in this category, such as loss of earnings, loss of society and post traumatic stress, will not be affected by the amendment.
The Tánaiste is most anxious to have this Bill enacted, so that the many people who are deprived access to the insurance market because of their Hepatitis C or HIV infection can avail of insurance products.