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Health costs rise as free GP proposal is shelved

PATIENTS are paying more for basic healthcare, despite pre-election promises by the Government to provide free GP care and make services more affordable.

A series of hikes and new charges have been imposed in the past two years and the pledge to give a GP visit card to about 40,000 people on the Long Term Illness Scheme has been shelved.

Junior Health Minister Alex White said yesterday the legislation to give effect to the free GP care, which was due to be implemented two years ago, is being parked and he is now looking at other ways to implement the proposal.

In the Dail, Taoiseach Enda Kenny insisted the commitment still stands and Mr White would report to the Cabinet on the matter by the end of this month.

However, instead of services becoming more affordable, many elements of the health system are now more expensive as a raft of charges and increases mount up.

These include a trebling of the prescription charge for medical card holders from 50c per item to €1.50, leaving medical card holders paying an extra €50m this year.

Health Minister James Reilly had promised to abolish this charge during the last election, saying it could put people at risk of not taking medicines.

Cancer patients are having to pay €75 a day – up to a maximum of €750 a year – for treatment since last October when hospitals started demanding the charge.

Last month Dr Reilly gave the go-ahead to hospitals with minor injury units to start charging patients €100 for their first visit. Tougher eligibility criteria mean thousands will lose a full medical card because they can no longer claim for outgoings such as travel-to-work costs.

New rules mean that people can no longer include the first €50-a-week travel-to-work expenses or a home-improvement loan in their means assessment.

Other changes are seeing 20,000 people over 70 lose their full medical cards. People aged 70 years or older, with a gross income of more than €600 a week for a single person or €1,200 for a couple, are no longer entitled to a medical card and will get a GP card instead. Private patients will also pay more because health insurers are being levied with the full cost if one of their members is placed in a public bed.

Mr White said the legislation to give free GP care to people on the Long Term Illness Scheme got "bogged down" legally.

Labour TDs said they had got reassurances at their parliamentary party meeting that the commitment to provide free GP care was not going to be abandoned.

The TDs were told that there were genuine legal problems in delivering it for people with long-term illnesses alone. One TD said that there was great faith in Mr White working out a solution.

Irish Independent