Talks with doctors already under way - Harney


MINISTER FOR Health Mary Harney has said that although the Government cannot negotiate with the IMO, her department was not precluded from “consulting” with doctors on the medical cards controversy. Talks were already under way, she added.

The decision to end the automatic entitlement to a medical card had not changed and would come into force on January 1st, said Ms Harney. However, she said she had never threatened to resign if there was a U-turn on the decision. “The Taoiseach is my boss, I respect him too much. I don’t engage in threats, I don’t play that sort of politics.

Confusion in relation to the change had arisen because the new scheme, being a Budget measure, could not be subject to a communications campaign before the Budget, and the Government had not been in a position to enter into discussions with people before the Budget, she said.

“I think everybody over the age of 70 thought they were going to lose their medical card and of course that was never the case. We were talking about six out of every 100 people over the age 70 that wouldn’t get support,” she said.

Doctors working in disadvantaged areas who have patients who received medical cards on the basis of need receive €161 for each patient a year. This figure does not rise when the patient reaches 70. However, if someone automatically gets a card on reaching 70, their GP gets €640 a year.

Speaking at an Amnesty conference yesterday, Ms Harney said that system was unfair and unsustainable.

“It leads to perverse incentives as far as areas of huge disadvantage are concerned. If we have automatic entitlement, those who need them the most can’t get them.”