A think-tank has proposed a voucher for £2,000 per person, funded from general income taxation, should be introduced to enable people to buy health insurance.

The Reform think-tank, which favours market-oriented solutions, suggests that the introduction of the voucher would lead to competition between private companies and primary care trusts. They suggest that the plan would maintain universal health coverage, whicle introducing market-style efficiencies.

However, the health spokespeople of all three main Westminster parties dismissed the idea. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, whose party’s policy is to have direct elections locally to the primary care trusts’ (PCTs) boards and to consider a local income tax, will welcome the proposals to empower patients but reject the specific call for funding reform in a speech on Tuesday. He will say, “"Local control and financing will mean a real financial reward for an area from making people healthier."

End the postcode lottery with core treatment offering
Reform’s proposal is that people can use their voucher to choose an insurer, and that a minimum range of treatments and drugs would be guaranteed under the scheme, ending the ‘postcode lottery’. However, it is currently unclear in their plan whether individuals would be able to “top up” the voucher with their own money, creating a two-tier system (such as already exists for those who can afford to have insurance or to pay directly for private care).

Co-author of the report Professor Nick Bosanquet, health economist and professor of health policy at Imperial Colege London, said, “The ideas in this report would turn a vast nationalised industry into our NHS. They amount to a far-reaching shift in responsibility and ownership towards individuals."

No Westminster take-up
Health Secretary Alan Johnson described the proposals as a new "patient passport" (the idea in the last Conservative mainfoeto that the NHS would fund half the cost of private care for those who could afford the other half), and said it would "threaten the financial stability of the NHS".

Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley described the proposals as not "compatible with maintaining universal access to high-quality healthcare services". The Lib Dems said healthcare standards would not be improved by competition between trusts and with other firms.