Schoolchildren next to get free GP cards after over-70s
Primary and secondary school students will be the next groups to get free GP cards after the over-70s have been covered under a Coalition promise.
And it has emerged that only 30,000 additional free GP cards will have to be given out to fulfil the promise to cover everyone who is over 70 access to the family doctor.
The Government is planning to roll out the free GP card scheme as part of the revamp of the Coalition ahead of the next general election.
After children under six get their cards later this year, the over-70s are the next group in line. The next phase will be primary schoolchildren from six to 11 and then secondary school children from 12 to 18.
The ultimate goal is to ensure the entire population has got access to free GP care. But there is no timeframe being set out for the process to be completed.
The current negotiations with the Irish Medical Organisation over the under-six cards will form a template for future deals when more sections of the population will be covered. The over-70s' free GP cards will be easiest to achieve.
At the moment, 345,000 pensioners over 70 have a medical card and another 6,300 people have a GP visit card.
Figures from the HSE estimate in the region of 30,000 over-70s do not hold a medical card or GP visit card.
Health Minister James Reilly defended his decision to choose the over-70s as one of the first groups to get free GP care despite the majority already having the benefit.
Currently over nine in 10 of the over-70s have access to free GP care. This compares with around four in 10 for those under 70, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children was told.
Dr Reilly said: "The highest users of these services are the over-70s and the under-3s.The legislation (free GP care) in relation for the under-sixes is going through and that is to be welcomed." Junior Health Minister Alex White also said that "legislation will probably be required for the extension to over-70s". He believed it would be priority of legislation in the autumn.
Mr White said there is a "meeting of minds" between Fine Gael and the Labour Party that the over-70s are a key public health priority group.
"I understand this will be returned to by the government on July 22," he said.
However, a report setting out a timetable for the extension of free GP care to different age groups in the population will not be completed until September, he added. Over-70s have a higher proportion of medical cards and GP cards than the general population because of the higher gross income limits.
In a written reply to a Dail question, the Department of Health said the over-70s age group do not have the same expenses as those under 70 who are assessed on a means basis.
Under the standard means-tested medical card scheme, the assessment process takes account of expenditure on rent or mortgages, travel to work, and childcare.
Generally, for the over-70s, mortgages have been cleared, children have been catered for and they would not have travelled to work-related costs.
"The gross income limit for an over-70s GP visit card is €700 per week for a single person and at €1,400 per week for a couple. The gross income limit for an over-70s medical card is €500 per week for a single person and at €900 per week for a couple. Income limits for the over-70s' medical card have been set by the Oireachtas on foot of Government decisions on the Budget," the answer said.
People aged 70 or older, who are assessed as ineligible under the gross income limits, may also have their eligibility assessed under the means tested medical card scheme where they face particularly high expenses, such as nursing home or medication costs.
"This assessment is based on net income and assessable outgoing expenses and the qualifying income thresholds under this scheme are lower than over -70s gross income thresholds."