Thousands of over-70s to lose full GP cards
Prescription charges for medical card holders to increase from €1.50 to €2.50 per item
Check-up: changes to the allocation of medical cards for older people and prescription charges are among the measures to be announced in today’s budget. Photograph: Hugh Macknight/PA
Thousands of over-70s will lose their full GP cards while the prescription charge for medical card holders is being increased by €1 in measures to be announced in today’s budget.
The eligibility limits for full GP cards for over-70s, which cover the cost of drugs as well as doctor visits, are being tightened for a second year in a row, though those affected will still qualify for GP visit cards.
Prescription charge increase
Minister for Finance Michael Noonan will also announce in his budget speech this afternoon that the prescription charge for medical card holders is being increased from €1.50 per item to €2.50. The Government will also raise from €19.50 to €25 the monthly ceiling on the amount which medical card holders can be required to pay in prescription charges.
The charge was increased from 50 cent to €1.50 per item in last year’s budget. The move is expected to generate about €40 million in additional revenue for the health service. In opposition, Minister for Health James Reilly opposed the introduction of prescription charges and he then promised to abolish them when appointed Minister. When they were increased, he said he was just one member of the Cabinet and he could not win all the battles.
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Mr Noonan will also clarify that the much-leaked proposal to extend free GP care to young children applies to those aged five and under. It will, therefore, provide for GP visit cards for the under-sixes, rather than under-fives. The Government has decided not to provide full GP cards for this age cohort, even though the additional cost has been estimated at less than €10 million a year.
The measure, which will require legislation, will be introduced next year, although the Minister will not specify an implementation date in today’s speech. Sources say people should not expect it to be ready for introduction in January.
The change to eligibility thresholds for over-70s medical cards will also require legislation. In last year’s budget, the gross income threshold for an over-70s medical card was lowered from €700 a week to €600 for a single person, and from €1,400 a week to €1,200 for a couple. This affected 20,000 medical card holders.
The introduction of free GP care for young children is an interim step on the road to free GP care for all, still scheduled to happen in 2015.
It is likely that at least one further interim step extending eligibility to under 10s or under-12s will take place before universal cover is introduced.
The plan drew fire from the Irish Medical Organisation, which described the initiative as a “political stunt” and warned it was not covered by existing agreements and would have to be the subject of negotiations.
Chairman of the organisation’s GP committee Dr Ray Walley said the Government “is presiding over the widespread rationing of discretionary medical cards for people with long-term illnesses and real medical needs and now it’s engaging in a stunt by extending these cards to tens of thousands of children in relatively wealthy families who by any measure do not need them”.
Dr Walley said that there was no medical evidence to back up the extension of medical cards to a wide category of the population.
The Irish College of General Practitioners said the plan represented a “major change” in the way health services are organised and paid for. The college warned of an “inevitable surge” in demand when children’s services were free and questioned whether the €40 million estimated cost was adequate.