Free GP care for over-70s will ‘require legislation’

Crown proposes that non-smokers could be given discount on health insurance

Senator John Crown said he feared the Department of Health after the Government reshuffle would now be run as ‘a branch office of the Fine Gael election campaign’. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Senator John Crown said he feared the Department of Health after the Government reshuffle would now be run as ‘a branch office of the Fine Gael election campaign’. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

Fri, Jul 11, 2014, 08:32

Legislation will be required to give effect to the Government’s decision to extend free GP care to all over-70s, the Oireachtas health committee has heard. The measure, which will apply to those over-70s who do not already have a medical card or GP visit card, will not be retrospectively applied, according to Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White.

He said over-70s were a “key cohort” for the extension of free GP care, and promised simple legislation to provide for this would be implemented in the autumn.

Minister for Health James Reilly said over-70s and under-threes were the heaviest users of the health system so the extension of free GP care to both these groups, and to people with chronic illnesses, would ensure that the sickest and most vulnerable were being looked after.

The announcement will apply to the 10 per cent of the over-70s population who do not have access to a GP service without fees, via either a medical card or a GP visit card, according to information provided to the committee.

Eligibility limits

Under medical card eligibility income limits revised in January this year, people over 70 were entitled to a medical card so long as their gross income did not exceed €500 a week for a single person or €900 for a couple.They were entitled to a free GP visit card if their income was over €500 but less than €700 for a single person and €1,400 for a couple.

Savings and investments below €36,000 for a single person and €72,000 for a couple are disregarded for eligibility.

Independent Senator John Crown suggested at the committee meanwhile that health insurance subscribers should get a discount for avoiding “avoidable behaviours”.

Dr Reilly said he was well disposed towards a suggestion that non-smokers be given a discount on health insurance. However, there could be difficulties where subscribers were “economical with the truth” about smoking as their policies could be voided if this was discovered later.

FG ‘branch office’

Prof Crown said he feared the Department of Health after the Government reshuffle would now be run as “a branch office of the Fine Gael election campaign”, presided over by “rappers and spin doctors”.

He also warned that the absence of a single centre for trauma treatment could be costing patients’ lives. With services such as neurology and burns treatment located in different hospitals in Dublin, staff working on the frontline were aware of significant barriers to moving patients between hospitals that could involve life-threatening delays.