Few benefit despite card climbdown by Harney
Resource type: News
Irish Independent |
by Eilish O’Regan, Senan Molony and Aine Kerr Most of the 140,000 pensioners affected by the controversial Budget measures will still lose out on a full over-70s medical card, despite an embarrassing government climbdown last night. In the face of a blistering backlash, Health Minister Mary Harney was forced to relax the stringent income threshold levels. Under the new income guidelines, over-70s can qualify for a full medical card if they have a net weekly income threshold of EUR480.60 for a couple, and EUR240.30 for a single person. The changed rates compare to a previous limit of EUR298 for a married couple, and EUR201.50 for a single person. Applicants for a GP-visit card will face a net income limit of EUR360.45, if single, and EUR720.90 for a couple. The previous rates were EUR302 for a single person and EUR447 for a couple. The net income threshold for the new annual EUR400 Health Support Payment is unchanged at EUR650 for a single person, and EUR1,300 for a couple. These increases initially appeared to restore a huge number of over-70s to their previous entitlements. But within one hour of Ms Harney’s U-turn, her spokesman insisted the new limits would mean little change in the overall numbers entitled to the full card, a GP visit card or numbers eligible for the EUR400 annual health allowance. Few will benefit from U-turn on cards The Department of Health believes that its original prediction that, of the estimated 140,000 non means-tested medical-card holders who now face reassessment, the 15,000 who will retain the benefit will remain largely unchanged. Another 35,000 were predicted to get the GP-visit cards, 70,000 would qualify for the EUR400 payment and 20,000 would lose out entirely. Last night’s move to relax the rules may have been timed to help relieve pressure on the Government after a day of near-unprecedented protest from senior citizens and their families. A serious rebellion on the issue also emerged among rankand-file FF TDs at a parliamentary party meeting before they were stifled by a crackdown on backbencher “indiscipline”. Grace It also emerged last night that, under existing guidelines, the HSE allows a three-year grace period from the expiry of a medical card following a change in circumstances. Earlier, the Taoiseach, at an EU summit in Brussels, was resolute in declaring that there would be no row-back on the decision to end the automatic granting of medical cards for the over-70s. Fine Gael continued to insist last night that 125,000 out of 139,000 older people would continue to fall short of full-service cards. Ms Harney said last night that only the estimated 140,000 non-means-tested over-70s will be re-assessed. Asked if she would apologise for the upset, she said: “We were faced with a situation where the public finances had rapidly deteriorated and in that context had to make difficult choices.” She admitted that under HSE rules, denying somebody who had a medical card as a result of a change in policy should entitle them to retain it for three years. “We are going to change that and we have to have legislation to do it,” she insisted. “This measure is to be brought before the Oireachtas before the existing cards expire on January 1, in a bid to avoid any legal action.” Age Action Ireland last night accused the minister of just tweaking the guidelines and said it would not save many older people from hardship. Fine Gael and Labour called for a full reversal of the mean-spirited and cold-hearted measure.