Age Action hits out at medical-card plan
Resource type: News
Irish News |
by Sarah Stack TAOISEACH Brian Cowen’s plan to press ahead with a scheme to means-test people over 70 for a medical card was condemned last night. Age Action said it was disturbed that, despite widespread public outrage, Mr Cowen still wanted to scrap free health care for thousands of elderly people. Mr Cowen said it was unsustainable for the state to cover medical costs for every elderly person but said he acknowledged the concerns of the public. He appealed for time and space to adapt and modify the proposal announced in last Tuesday’s budget. Eamon Timmins of Age Action said the move would deprive many older people from vital access to health care. “It is as if the government has not heard the people or its own backbenchers and does not recognise the importance of the medical card for older people trying to gain access to essential community services,” Mr Timmins said. The Taoiseach who deferred a fiveday trip to China from today until tomorrow night to deal with the backlash vowed to find a solution that would address people’s concerns and still respect the parameters of his government’s budget. He told the RTE radio programme This Week that since the automatic entitlement was introduced in 2001, its cost had escalated considerably. But Mr Cowen said the proposal announced in the budget would have to be changed as it did not have public approval. “The present proposal, as we enunciated, it clearly is not the ultimate proposal that’s going to be decided upon because it does not merit or have the wider public acceptance that it would need to have,” Mr Cowen said. “I’m addressing those concerns and I think that those that have that concern can be assured of that. “Secondly… it was never the intention at any time to introduce this before the Ist January so we have time in which to come up with a creative solution which will address this issue to a greater extent than we’ve been able to do on the basis of the budget as it is.” Public representatives across the state have been inundated with calls from concerned residents since the budget proposals were revealed. Some Fianna Fail backbenchers, the Green Party, independent TDs, opposition parties and social groups have demanded a U-turn. Fianna Fail Wicklow TD Joe Behan resigned from the party on Friday and independent TD Finian McGrath has threatened to withdraw his support for the government if it continues with the plan. Yesterday Fianna Fail county councillors from around the state met in Ballinasloe, Co Galway, to debate the budget, particularly the medical-card issue. Around 140,000 pensioners will receive forms to assess their new eligibility for the full medical card in the coming months. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny whose party will bring a motion to the Dail on Wednesday night on the issue said Mr Cowen failed to appreciate the level of hurt, confusion and anxiety being caused by the decision. Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore accused the taoiseach of trying to buy time in the face of the unprecedented hostile reaction from the public and the mutiny among his own backbenchers. “While some tinkering around with income limits may be sufficient to satisfy some of the more gullible government backbenchers, it won’t satisfy the public who simply want to see this plan scrapped,” he said. Sinn Fein health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain said the taoiseach had succeeded only in sowing further confusion. Age Action said the taoiseach’s promised review must involve a comprehensive analysis of the savings generated by the over-seventies card scheme, as well as its costs. “While the government has only focused on the cost implications of the scheme to date, it has failed to look at the hugely important contribution which the over-seventies card has made to the public health services and to preventative health needs of older people,” Mr Timmins said.