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Over-70s will lose right to medical cards

Resource type: News

The Irish Independent |

by Eilish O’Regan UP to 10,000 over 70s will lose out on automatic entitlement to a medical card next year as the Government puts a halt to the scheme in today’s Budget. The automatic entitlement to a medical card — regardless of means — is now costing in the region of €228m a year with €86m going to GPs in higher fees. Approximately 10,000 over-70s, who would not have qualified if means tested, have been getting a medical card card annually — and this number would rise even further as the population ages. However, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has become overwhelmed by the growing drain on its budget. The 138, 269 people who have the medical card will not be affected by today’s measure, which is expected to apply from next year. There are currently 324,530 over-70s in the country. Department of Health figures reveal that the number of those over 70 who have a medical card, although they would not qualify on means grounds, has risen from 64,317 when the measure was introduced to 138,269 by last September. Each new medical card is now estimated to cost €1,650 and it entitles the holder to free GP care, free medicines and also absolves them of A&E and other hospital bed charges. Health Minister Mary Harney confirmed the new figures qualifying for the non means tested card in response to a parliamentary question from her Fine Gael shadow, James Reilly. She said GPs who have these people on their lists get a fee of €640 per person annually. This is nearly three times what they receive for a patient over 70 who qualifies for a card because their income is low. This fee ranges from €139.59 to €244.64. The automatic entitlement to the medical card, announced in 2001, was seen as a pitch for the grey vote in advance of the the 2002 election. However, no calculations were carried out in advance to determine the cost and the numbers of people eligible were seriously underestimated. Although the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said the benefit should be given to people most in need, the union negotiated a fee for the new patients far in excess of what they were getting for means tested over-70s. The Government is expected to defend the move today on the grounds that many of those who receive the medical card are wealthy and the bias should be in favour of extending the scheme to those least well off. Bills It is also expected to say that when the measure was introduced in 2001, the GP visit card, which allows holders to free doctor visits alone, was not in place. It is easier to qualify for this than for a full medical card. However, that will still leave them having to pay for medicine bills. The Budget is expected to extend the amount people with large medicine bills have to pay under the Drug Payment Scheme from €90 to at least €95. A&E charges are also set to increase, as well as the amount a patient has to pay for overnight hospital accommodation if they don’t have a medical card. In order to qualify for a card a person in their 70s would need to have an income of no more than €596 a week. This rises to €895 for a GP visit card. However, they are also assessed on their level of outgoings like rent and mortgage — if these do not reach a certain level it will be more difficult to qualify. For those aged 80 years or over the threshold is €627 a week for a full card and €940.50 a week for a GP visit card. – Eilish O’Regan, Health Correspondent

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Aging, Health

Global Impact:

Republic of Ireland


health care, pensioners, senior citizens