Some 20,000 people over the age of 70 will lose their medical card under legislation changing the criteria for the card.
Minister of State for Health Alex White said the 20,000 would instead be eligible for a GP-visit card. The changes are part of the Health (Alteration of Criteria for Eligibility) Bill which reduces the income threshold for a person to still retain the medical card from €700 a week to €600 or €1,400 to €1,200 for couples.
Passed in Dáil
The second stage of the Bill, which was passed in the Dáil by 65 votes to 35, provides that pensioners over 70 with income of between €600 and €700 a week will be eligible for a GP-visit card.
Mr White, who has responsibility for primary care, stressed that 95 per cent of the 360,000 people over 70 with a medical card “will not be affected by the new arrangements”. He added: “We have also sought to minimise the impact on the 5 per cent affected. They earn €600 a week as individuals or €1,200 as couples. We will continue to ensure they receive free GP services.”
They would “lose out” on the contribution to their drug costs but this would be capped at €36 a week (€144 a month) under the drug payment scheme. The Minister said he was not minimising the effect the change might have on some individuals and couples but it was a “relatively small number of people who are affected” and each of them “will have a free GP visit card”.
He said that medical card coverage of the over-70s population is approximately 97 per cent. In comparison the medical card coverage of the under -70s population is approximately 35 per cent.
Independent TD Tom Fleming said the overall budget for the medical card system was €750 million. "The €24 million being saved is nitpicking in the overall context." He said 94 per cent of people over 70 visited their GP on a regular basis. "It follows then that they have a high intake of drugs to them cope with illness and disability."
The Kerry South TD said savings could be trebled or quadrupled if the whole cost of drugs issue was dealt with.
But Mr White criticised the description of “nitpicking” for saving €12 million this year and €24 million in a full year. He said he found such an argument difficult to understand. “Most of the individual savings that must be achieved across the board are relatively small amounts.” The Minister added: “We cannot operate on that basis because the same argument could be made about every single element of the savings that regrettably have to be made.”
Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty said the Bill allowed for data sharing between the HSE, the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners. The Bill now goes to committee.