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Saturday 23 August 2014

Kenny promises free visits to the doctor for all over-70s

Eilish O'Regan and Philip Ryan

Published 10/07/2014 | 02:30

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Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

EVERYONE over 70, regardless of income, will be allowed to visit their GP for free under proposals unveiled by the Government.

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Currently around 97pc of this age group either have a full medical card or a GP visit card – but those on the highest incomes pay to see their doctor and must buy their own medication.

Under the latest announcement, those who are above the income thresholds for both cards are to be allowed visit their GP for free, although they will not get any of the other benefits, such as an exemption from hospital charges, and they will continue to have to pay up to €144 for medication.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny delivered the news in the Dail yesterday, but gave no timescale for its introduction and failed to provide a costing for the measure.

Around 35,000 over-70s have lost their full medical card so far this year because of income eligibility changes announced in the last Budget and they have been given a GP visit card instead.

The extension of the GP-only cards to the over-70s has been included in the new document on coalition priorities, following discussions between the Taoiseach and Tanaiste Joan Burton.

It was being seen as a pitch for the grey vote, similar to the extension of medical cards for all over-70s by the FF-led government, in 2001.

Meanwhile, the Government was defeated in a Seanad vote yesterday on a Bill to introduce free GP care for under-sixes.

The amendment on the GP Service Bill 2014 was initially rejected, but independent senator Professor John Crown, who tabled an amendment, called for a walk-through vote which was subsequently lost by the Government.

The initial vote was won 26 to 25 by the Government but after the walk-through vote was called, two additional opposition senators entered the chamber and the vote was lost by 27 to 26. Mr Crown tabled an amendment to remove "a gagging clause" on doctors contained in the new legislation.

The proposal to give fee GP care to all over-70s is designed to take some of the heat off the Government for targeting older people for the withdrawal of medical cards in a bid to save €25m. However, it is set to spark more bitter debate about prioritising pensioners on good incomes over families with young children who face GP visit fees of up to €65.

It also runs contrary to recent statements by junior health minister and defeated Labour Party leadership candidate, Alex White, who said "automatic eligibility for a medical card for persons aged 70 years and over was difficult to justify in the economic climate".

Last night the proposal drew criticism from the Irish Medical Organisation – the doctors' union – whose members will lose private fees from all over-70s. Spokesman, Dr Ray Walley, said government policy was "in complete disarray".

Irish Independent

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