Cost of providing medical cards decreases to €1,026

A Dail committee has said there should be checks on medical card holders

Eilish O'Regan, Health Correspondent

THE average annual cost of providing a medical card has actually dropped, which is sure to fuel further anger from those who face losing out.

The annual cost is now €1,026, slightly lower than when the Health Service Executive (HSE) was established nine years ago in 2005.

The cost is based on GP and pharmacy fees only – but does not take into account other lost income to the health service such as a medical card holder's exemption from the A&E charge or overnight bed in a public hospital.

In 2003 the annual cost of a medical card was €842 and it climbed steadily, particularly after the introduction of cards for everyone over 70, a measure which has since been revoked.

In 2005 the annual cost per medical card to the HSE was €1,093, but cuts in fees to GPs in particular have been the main drivers in the reduction since then.

A medical card holder was worth an average of €343 to a GP in 2005 – but this is now reduced to €243, according to figures for 2012. It may be even less when the 2013 annual report on the medical card scheme is published, as GPs suffered another cut last summer.

The average pharmacy cost per medical card holder in 2005 was €750, but this has been more difficult to contain due to the greater demand for drugs – and in 2012 it rose to €782.

The figures form a stark background to the controversy which reached fever pitch in the run-up to election day, over the removal of thousands of discretionary medical cards and the introduction of tougher eligibility limits for the over-70s.

Dr Ray Walley, GP spokes- man in the doctors' union the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said he welcomed Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore's admission that some elderly people were being "harassed" by the level of letters they received reviewing their medical cards.

"Two years ago the IMO began a campaign to highlight how the HSE was withdrawing medical cards from vulnerable patients," he said.

"Despite the attempts of the HSE and Government to dismiss such claims, even the Government now accepts that what is happening is wrong with the Tanaiste admitting that the current review process amounts to harassment."

He said that the "current practice of simply removing medical cards must stop and a new equitable system for review be put in place".

The IMO is to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health on Tuesday to present its Campaign to Resource General Practice.