THE number of people covered by medical cards or GP visit cards has reached nearly 2 million – a record high.
New figures show that there are 1.8 million people covered by medical cards and another 130,301 by GP visit cards.
It comes as thousands of people are to be affected by a tightening up of medical card eligibility, starting this month, which excludes them for claiming for certain outgoings.
The HSE confirmed that people cannot include the first €50 a week travel-to-work expenses or a home improvement loan in their means assessment. The new curbs will mean some medical card holders may no longer qualify for a full medical card and it will be more difficult for others to get the benefit.
Sinn Fein health spokesman Caoimhghin O Caolain accused the Government of sneaking in these restrictions while the Dail is in recess.
The HSE said the changes follow the announcements in the Budget. It added: "The exclusion of travel-to-work costs relate to removing the weekly amount of €50 allowed to cover standing charges."