Medical card for over-70s didn't cut numbers hospitalised
The controversial decision to give medical cards to all over-70s, regardless of income, did not lead to any significant fall in the numbers being hospitalised, according to a new ESRI study.
The move by the former finance minister Charlie McCreevy in 2001 was seen as a pitch for the "grey vote" in advance of the general election the following year.
But the decision became bogged down in disputes after it emerged the numbers qualifying were underestimated and GPs had negotiated a big increase in fees high fee.
The last government drew public anger when it axed the automatic right to a card two years ago, prompting marches by groups of elderly people.
The new study, in the journal 'Social Science and Medicine', has looked at hospital statistics from 1999-2000 and 2001-2004 to measure some of its health impact.
Researcher Anne Nolan found the hospitalisation rate fell by by just 1.7 per 1,000 after the extension of the medical cards. At the same time, it dropped by 1.1 per 1,000 among the under-70s.
The study said the extension to newly eligible patients was probably too small to have a significant impact.
Those who received it were better off and in better health than their contemporaries who qualified due to lower means.
The study suggested other obstacles such as mobility, transport and information may have a higher impact on people's behaviour and be more influential in reducing avoidable hospitalisations.