Saturday 25 October 2014

All over-70s to receive free GP visits regardless of income

Eilish O'Regan, Health Correspondent

Published 09/07/2014 | 17:32

Between 80 and 100 complaints were made about nurses
The extension of free GP care to older age groups follows agreement at government level after discussions between the Taoiseach and new Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton.

All over-70s are to be given free GP visits regardless of income, Taoiseach Enda Kenny revealed today.

The extension of free GP care to older age groups follows agreement at government level after discussions between the Taoiseach and new Tanaiste and Labour leader Joan Burton.

Thousands of over-70s already have a full medical card on income grounds but around 35,000 lost this benefit this year due to changes in the Budget.

These 35,000 are getting GP visit cards instead. The new measure will benefit those on the highest incomes, who will no longer have to pay around €60 to see their GP.

However, they will continue to have to pay for medicines at a cost of up to €144 a month. The government has yet to introduce free GP care for the under-sixes and this is promised in the autumn.

The Taoiseach made the announcement in the Dail when replying to comments by Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

He said: “Some very sick people are losing their medical card – 90-year-olds, 80-year-olds.

“And even if they have a very serious condition that would in ordinary times would merit a medical card, they are not getting it.”

Mr Martin said: “It beggars belief that you’re saying you’re going to bring in universal health coverage but at the same time you’re actually taking away vital medical cards from elderly people in this country who need them.”

The Taoiseach said: “Government has made a decision that all persons over 70 will obviously be entitled to access to GP services.”

Under medical card eligibility income limits revised in January this year, people over 70 were entitled to a medical card - so long as their gross income did not exceed €500 a week for a single person or €900 for a couple.

They still have entitlement to a free GP visit card if their income is over €500, but less than €700 for a single person and €1,400 for a couple.

Their income from savings and investments was capped at €36,000 for a single person and €72,000 for a couple for eligibility.

Meanwhile, the GP Committee of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said that Government policy in relation to GP Services is in 'complete disarray' and there is now an 'urgent need to tackle the crisis facing GPs who are trying to cope with increasing workloads and decreasing resources'. 

Speaking today, Dr. Ray Walley, Chairman of the GP Committee of the IMO, said; “The reality is that GPs are overstretched and under-resourced and priority must be given to providing services to those most in need.  

"There are many aspects of today’s announcement that are of concern – not least the casual way in which it has been announced. 

"We are particularly concerned that the Government is using Free GP Visit Cards as an alternative to medical cards when the two are not comparable. 

"It is of little help to an elderly patient to have his GP visit paid for but no support for all the additional services available under medical cards including medication, non medical support services and community services.”

Dr. Walley also said that the IMO would seek an urgent meeting with the upcoming Minister for Health and ask them to clarify the Government's priorities for GPs.

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