THE first 6,000 over-70s who may lose their medical card this year have been contacted by the HSE after changes in eligibility rules.
Following a Budget decision in October, the income guidelines for a full medical card for people over 70 were tightened in a bid to make major savings.
The 6,000 are the first of 35,000 whose income will be means-tested to ensure they qualify under the new rules.
Junior Health Minister Alex White has confirmed that the first 6,000 have been sent review letters asking them to provide updated details of their income.
They are due to lose a full medical card and get a GP visit card instead. It will entitle them to free doctors' visits but end their entitlement to free medication, a public hospital bed and exemption from the A&E charge.
Replying to a parliamentary question from Fine Gael TD Patrick O'Donovan, Mr White said the changes, effective from December 18, set income qualifying thresholds at €500 gross income per week for a single person and €900 for a couple.
"The HSE is required to identify those persons who no longer have full eligibility as a result of this change and, in place of the medical card, issue a GP visit card to those with gross income up to €700 (single person) and €1,400 a week for a couple.
"Those persons aged 70 or older with gross income above €700/€1,400 per week will have no eligibility to either a medical card or a GP visit card."
He said that generally a person is notified three months before the date their existing medical card/GP visit card eligibility is due to expire.
"A reminder letter is issued a month later if the requested review form details have not been received at that point.
"If a person does not return their review form within the time specified, their continuing eligibility cannot be confirmed and their medical card/GP visit card cannot be reissued," Mr White said.
"In these circumstances, or where the review process establishes that a person no longer holds eligibility, the eligibility ceases."
People are being asked to return their completed review forms at least one month in advance of the due expiry date of their existing card.
This is to give the HSE sufficient time to carry out the review and allow time to get back to the person if the application requires further details.
Around 10,000 letters are issued each month to cardholders asking that they confirm they are still resident here.