Thousands to lose medical cards in fight against fraud

Focus on fraud a ‘witch hunt’

Some €666 million will have to be shaved off health spending next year in order to meet Government targets, making next year “the most challenging yet”, according to Dr Reilly.

Some €666 million will have to be shaved off health spending next year in order to meet Government targets, making next year “the most challenging yet”, according to Dr Reilly.

Wed, Oct 16, 2013, 01:00


Thousands of people are set to lose their medical cards in a major drive against fraud announced in Budget 2014.

Minister for Health James Reilly declined to say how many cards would be removed by the “probity” exercise, even though a specific target saving of €113 million is identified.

The Irish Medical Organisation criticised the measure as a “witch-hunt” against holders of ineligible and redundant cards. Pharmacists and nursing home owners called for older people in care setting and other groups to be exempted from the change.

“The onus is on the Minister to justify the figure of €113 million in savings on these cards, otherwise it simply becomes a target that bureaucrats will aim for with no regard to fairness or equity,” said IMO president Matthew Sadlier.

The other major change to medical card eligibility is the reduction of the thresholds applying to over-70s medical cards from €600 to €500 per week. The threshold for a couple is being changed from €1,200 to €900. Some 35,000 people affected by the measure will henceforth qualify for a GP visit card rather than a full medical card. The change is expected to save €25 million next year.

Medical card entitlement is also being changed for those returning to work. Henceforth, people re-entering the workforce will be entitled to a GP visit card for three years, rather than a full medical card.

Some €666 million will have to be shaved off health spending next year in order to meet Government targets, making next year “the most challenging yet”, according to Dr Reilly.

The centrepiece of the Minister’s post-budget press conference was the much-leaked announcement of free GP care for fives and under. This will benefit about 240,000 children when it is introduced next year. The cost is estimated at €37 million a year.

The €1 increase in the prescription charge, to €2.50 per item, was also known before budget day. A monthly cap of €25 per person or family will apply, up from €19.50. This measure will save €43 million.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin accused the Minister of hypocrisy for increasing a charge he originally promised to abolish.

No changes are being made to the Fair Deal scheme for nursing homes but an additional €20 million is being provided for mental health services.