Reilly has no idea how much medical card cuts will save
HEALTH Minister James Reilly has admitted he has no idea how much will be saved by taking full medical cards away from the unemployed immediately after they find a job.
It is one of the key aspects of the Budget medical card crackdown that has passed almost unnoticed.
Previously, people on the dole who got a job were entitled to keep their medical card for three years without a means test. But Dr Reilly will bring in legislation next year to take this away from them, instead giving them a GP visit card for three years.
This will be cheaper for the State because it does not cover the cost of prescription drugs.
However, Dr Reilly, who is under huge pressure to deliver up to €1bn in health cuts, has been unable to provide a figure for how much the withdrawal of full medical cards from the unemployed will save each year.
Budget documentation had put a figure of €11m on the savings.
However, in response to a parliamentary question, Dr Reilly said the full-year savings were difficult to calculate "for reasons of timing and the nature of the savings involved".
Dr Reilly also publicly cast doubt on his department's ability to achieve other Budget cuts. He said the €268m savings on wages under the Haddington Road deal and the €113m savings from a general review of medical cards were both "challenging targets".
He had joked recently that he wanted to change the department's nickname from "Angola", due to the many landmines there, to "East Anglia" by bringing it to a state of calm.
But he now faces the publication on November 5 of the HSE service plan for 2014, which will contain further detail of the Budget cuts.
And before the Dail breaks for the Christmas holidays, he will have to seek permission for a supplementary estimate of €150m to €200m to cover a spending over-run this year.
Fine Gael's junior natural resources minister, Fergus O'Dowd, defended Dr Reilly as a "reforming minister".
He told RTE's 'Week In Politics' show: "The number of people on trolleys has reduced nationally by 30pc, and by 54pc in Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Drogheda in my own constituency. That is a significant change."
However, Fianna Fail TD Willie O'Dea warned of the impact of a further €1bn of health cuts on an already-stretched health service. "It's inconceivable," he said.
Independent TD Catherine Murphy also said there was very little scope for more cuts.
"We're at the point where you've cut the fat and you're into the bone," she said.