The Government has published the White Paper on Universal Health Insurance, in which it says access to a health service will be based on need, not ability to pay.
Speaking at the publication of the paper, Minister for Health James Reilly said the aim of UHI was to bring an end to the existing unfair, unequal and inefficient two-tier health system.
Dr Reilly said that over the next year, his department would analyse the estimated cost of the new system.
He said the average private health premium was now €920 after tax relief.
He said that if UHI had been in place in 2013, the average premium would most likely have cost less and everyone would have had free GP care at the point of use.
The White Paper says that UHI would be funded by tax revenue, co-payments and insurance premiums.
Whether drugs will be included in UHI or through a separate scheme has not been decided.
The Government will also consider if tax relief on health insurance will continue or be subsumed into the overall system of financial support for UHI.
People will buy UHI from a preferred provider.
The standard package of care is not set out, but is expected to include hospital and GP care, but not long-term residential care.
Everyone will be charged the same premium for the standard package, regardless of age or health.
People who are unemployed or on low income will apply to a National Insurance Fund to seek full or partial subsidy of their cover and face a means assessment.
The minister has also promised to lower the cost of health cover and improve productivity over the coming years in preparation for UHI.
A public consultation process will now get under way and is due to last eight weeks until 28 May.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny described it a "once-in-a-generation opportunity to help build a health system which is fit for purpose in a modern republic".
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said UHI was about providing "equal access for all of our people to quality healthcare services, and providing the right incentives for them to get treated as early, and as efficiently as possible".
The Cabinet yesterday approved publication of the document, but the final plan will require future approval.
UHI is due to be in place by 2019, so ultimately it will be an issue for the next government.