Tuesday 21 November 2017

Medical card controversy: your questions answered

George and Anne Royal, Walting Street, Dublin, who are both in their 70s and in danger of losing their medical card
George and Anne Royal, Walting Street, Dublin, who are both in their 70s and in danger of losing their medical card

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan's decision to abolish the free medical card for thousands of pensioners sparked a flood of angry calls to radio chatshows yesterday.

Some 125,000 pensioners will now have to find hundreds, and even thousands, of euro each year to plug the gap in their health care.

Many of the callers spoke of their confusion over the move, and whether they would still be eligible for a medical card.

Here, we answer the key questions raised.

What changes were made to medical card eligibility in the Budget?

The Government introduced means testing for people over 70 years wanting a medical card. It comes into effect in January and will end the automatic entitlement for this age group.

Everyone over 70 who already has a medical card will be re-assessed.

What happens now?

Anyone over 70 who has a medical card can hold on to it until January 1.

The HSE is shortly to write to each individual medical card holder with information and include an application form. This must be filled out to be in with a chance of getting some form of benefit.

How difficult will it be to qualify for a medical card?

There are three kinds of benefits available to the over- 70s -- a full medical card, a GP visit card or a €400 annual health payment. You are means assessed for each.

What does the financial assessment involve?

The HSE will take into account a person's gross income and deduct income tax and PRSI. Certain kinds of income are disregarded such as a carer's allowance or fuel allowance.

Based on the net income the HSE will then look at a person's outgoings such as mortgage, rent and, importantly in the case of older people, their medical costs.

Where people have savings, investments or own a property that is not mortgaged these assets are included in their means test.

The HSE disregards €20,000 in the case of a single person and €40,000 for a married couple.

How severe are the income limits?

The combined weekly income of a couple will be assessed against the weekly net income threshold of €298 for a full card and €447 for a GP visit card. This is net of outgoings like rent, mortgage or medical expenses such as GP fees, medications and appliances. Cards will be re-issued to a single person who has a weekly net income below the threshold of €201.50.

It is also given to a single person with a net income of less than €173.50 living with their family or a married couple with a net weekly income of €298.

What are the income cut-off points for a GP visit card?

Any single person over 70 who has a weekly income under €302 will qualify. It will also be given to a single person who is living with their family and earns less than €260 a week. A married couple with net income of less than €447 will qualify.

What about people on a non contributory or contributory pension?

The HSE says anyone reliant on state pensions will qualify for a full card.

If I don't qualify for a full medical card or GP visit card, is there any other help I can get?

A Health Support Payment of €400 is being introduced in January for the over-70s who don't qualify for either card.

Is this means tested?

Yes. The weekly income of a single person must be below €650 and €1,300 for a married couple.

If I don't qualify for any of the three how expensive will be medical bills be?

It depends on your health. A GP visit is around €60, so five visits per year would cost €300.

You will also have to pay for any prescription costs. You can avail of the Drug Payment Scheme if you spend more than €100 a month.

This figure of €100 is per family.

Will I be entitled to free hospital care if I need tests or an operation?

You will have to pay €75 a night, based on increased charges which come into effect in January. However the yearly charge will not exceed €750.

Are there other charges I may face?

Medical card holders tend to be given priority for discretionary extras.

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