New legislation on medical cards to be introduced

Wed, Oct 22, 2008, 01:00

The Government is to introduce new legislation to enable it to push ahead with its changes to over-70s medical card scheme, the Dáil heard today

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan said during Leader's Questions this morning the Health Act 2001 would be repealed and new legislation would be introduced to allow the Government to proceed with its plans.

The Health Act 2001 gives the over-70s an automatic legal entitlement to a medical card.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said repealing the Act will remove the entitlement of people who are not yet 70 to get the card in the future but will not change the existing position of those who are already in receipt of the card.

“The only way you can do that is to bring in a legislative measure to take the card off them,” he said.

“Is it the intention to bring in legislation that expressly provides for taking back the medical card from those who hold them?," Mr Gilmore said. “We are entitled to know what the Government intends, if the Government knows what it intends to do."

Ms Coughlan accused Labour of trying to “muddy the waters” on the issue. She said the Government had received legal advice on the issue and it was clear on how it should proceed.

“The Minister for Health and Children has been advised by the Attorney General in the context of the legislative framework in which she will introduce this new scheme,” she told the Dáil.

“It is the intention of the Government to repeal [the Health] Act,” Ms Coughlan said “It is the intention of the Government to introduce the income thresholds within another piece of legislation.”

The new income thresholds, as outlined yesterday by Taoiseach Brian Cowen, will be €700 a week for a single person, equivalent to €36,500 a year and €1,400 a week for a couple, or €73,000 a year.

The thresholds will only affect the top 5 per cent of earners, and some 105,000 pensioners who would have lost their medical cards under the initial provisions will not now do so.

The Dáil will vote this evening on a Fine Gael motion calling for the reversal of the scheme after the debate on the motion began yesterday.

The Government's Dáil majority was cut from 12 to eight last night with the defection of Independent TD, Finian McGrath who joined Wicklow TD Joe Behan, who resigned from Fianna Fáil last week, on the Opposition side of the House.

Despite the defections, the Government is still expected to win tonight's vote.