GOVERNMENT plans to give free GP care to more than 200,000 children – regardless of parental income – have been criticised by a Dublin doctor.
Dr Tony O'Sullivan, a GP in Irishtown and a former chairman of the Diabetes Federation, said it would mean better-off families would see their children handed free visits which they did not need.
At the same time many other families who are just above the income limits for a medical card are struggling to pay doctors' bills with the result they are delaying or avoiding necessary medical care.
Under the plan, children under five would have free GP visits, although their families would still pay for any medication they need.
The HSE told the Irish Independent that 127,600 under-fives are currently covered by a medical card and another 12,430 have a GP visit card.
There are 356,330 under-fives in the country, which would mean that an additional 216,300 of this age group would benefit from the Budget measure.
It comes amid growing concern at the number of people who are losing discretionary medical cards, which are awarded to those with exceptional medical need who fall outside the normal income limits.
Dr O'Sullivan said he was in favour of relaxing the eligibility limits for a medical card and GP visit card to benefit more low-income families who are currently outside the net.
"If you look at what happened when everyone over 70 was given a medical card, regardless of income, it was one of the most divisive deals," he said.
The open eligibility for the over-70s saw very well-off pensioners receive the benefit while GPs in wealthy areas got fees three times higher for these patients than their colleagues in working-class surgeries where most qualified on income grounds.
"I see a lot of families who are struggling. There are people who have cancer or families with a low income.
"When they come to see us it is quite obvious that they have five or six things lined up to justify the expense of coming to see me."
He said the current medical card system was a mess.