A NEW crackdown on medical cards for older people is under way after an audit found 7,000 have not had their eligibility reviewed for more than a decade.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) has confirmed that the national database audit revealed how thousands of people with the benefit had not been contacted by health officials for more than 10 years.
It said that they are all now being written to in order to confirm their details and prove they are still eligible for a card.
Since the beginning of this year, new rules have been imposed which mean that people over 66 years with medical cards must have their eligibility reviewed every four years to determine if they still qualify.
The recent examination of the medical card database found that some of these medical cards had also not been checked in four years.
The new checks on medical cards for people over 66 comes amid speculation that eligibility rates for people over 70 may be tightened in the next Budget.
The eligibility criteria is more generous for this group in the wake of the decision in 2009 to remove their automatic entitlement to a card regardless of income.
Figures show that despite a means test being introduced for the over 70s, there are now more people in this age group with a medical card than in 2009. While some of this is explained by the ageing population, it also reflects the more liberal means test.
There were 351,853 over-70s with a medical card in 2009 but this figure has increased by 2,527, despite the means test.
People over 70 account for one in five of all card-holders.
The annual cost to the HSE of a card is around €1,019, but it can vary according to the type and volume of medicines the patient is taking.
People over 70 who are single qualify for a medical card if their income is less than €700 a week or €36,500 a year.
If they are part of a couple, they qualify if their gross income is less than €1,400 a week or €73,000 a year.
A couple is defined as a husband and wife who are living together or an opposite-sex cohabiting couple.
If their income is above these limits, it may still be possible to get a "discretionary" medical card if they have exceptional medical expenses.