Legislation needed for over-70s medical cards

Reilly promises ‘sickest and most vulnerable’ will be benefit from free GP care

The extension of free GP care to all over-70s will not be applied retrospectively and will require legislation, the Oireachtas health committee has heard.

Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White said over-70s were a "key cohort" for the extension of free GP care, and legislation to provide for this would be implemented in the autumn.

Minister for Health James Reilly pointed out that over-70s and under-3s 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.

Nine out of 10 of the over-70s population has access to a GP service without fees, via either a medical card or a GP visit card, according to information provided to the committee. This compares to about four out of 10 of those under 70 years of age.


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.

Prof Crown, who made the proposal, said a discount would act as an incentive for people to give up something which is bad for them. People didn't have a choice about their age or inherited health but they did have one in relation to smoking.

Prof Crown wished Dr Reilly well in advance of the Government reshuffle, describing him as a reforming minister with a radical agenda who had been dealt “a lousy hand” because of cutbacks.

He said the Minister had come under ferocious pressure from outside the country to get costs down.

Prof Crown said he feared the Department of Health would now run as "a branch office of the Fine Gael election campaign", presided over by "Beyonce and Jay-Z rappers and spin doctors".

He 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.

Mr White said regulations to enable cannabis-based medicinal products such as Sativex, which is used to relieve the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, to be prescribed to patients will be introduced by next week at the latest, once a number of legal issues are ironed out.

Dr Reilly said that he was considering making it easier to access epi-pens for use by people suffering major allergic shocks in an emergency.

Earlier this year, the committee heard from the family of teenager Emma Sloane, who died after being refused an epi-pen while suffering from a major anaphylactic shock.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times