News Analysis

Friday 29 August 2014

Pensioners are targeted in clampdown on medical card numbers

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Published 12/05/2014 | 02:30

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The worst financial pain has been felt by the decision to make it more difficult to get a full medical card for all age groups, particularly over 70s. Photo: Getty Images
The worst financial pain has been felt by the decision to make it more difficult to get a full medical card for all age groups, particularly over 70s. Photo: Getty Images

THOUSANDS of pensioners are being targeted in a letters blitz by the HSE, in a bid to find out how many are no longer eligible for a medical card.

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In the past two months 36,000 over-70s have been sent review letters asking them to provide fresh proof of their income. The move follows changes in eligibility limits for older age groups which were introduced in the Budget, aimed at taking 35,000 medical cards from the over-70s.

Election candidates from government parties are now facing anger on the doorsteps over the numbers of people of all ages who have lost discretionary cards.

The HSE's head of primary care John Hennessy admitted the removal of some discretionary cards has been "indefensible" and said the scheme is not fit for purpose.

But Health Minister James Reilly told backbenchers at the weekend that there will not be any new form of "third tier" card.

There had been speculation of this new type of medical card to cater for "hard cases" who are losing out under the system.

But an email to colleagues said some of the cases highlighted by TDs were 50pc to 100pc over the income limits.

He had instructed the HSE not to write stark letters to people who are having cards removed and instead to advise them on availing of existing health services.

Meanwhile Mr Hennessy of the HSE addressed a charged annual meeting of the Irish College of General Practitioners over the weekend.

Faced with a roomful of family doctors, he said: "There are some things that have happened that are clearly indefensible." The number of discretionary cards, which are given to people over the income limit who have bills due to illness, has dropped from 74,281 in January 2012 to 50,009 in March this year.

Another group suffering a downgrading of benefits are 22,000 previously unemployed people, who were promised full medical cards for three years after getting a job.

They are all being stripped of a full medical card and are being given a GP visit card.

The newly elected President of the Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) has said that the "widespread" withdrawal of medical cards was causing "very significant" hardship for patients.

Kathy Maher from Duleek in Co Meath, was elected as IPU president at the organisation's AGM in Cavan yesterday.

Irish Independent

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