The Department of Health today published the terms of the means test which will decide whether current medical-card holders may retain their cards, or be required to give them up.
The means test will also be applied to anyone who, up to yesterday's Budget, would have been automatically entitled to a medical card on turning 70.
The means test will also be used to judge when senior citizens are entitled to a GP-visit card or to the new Health Support Payment of €400 per person announced by Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan in yesterday's Budget.
Where medical cards are being withdrawn, this will happen from January 1, 2009.
The Department of Health clarified today that people who have a card as a result of a previous means test will not have to complete a new test, and will retain their medical card.
Medical-card holders over 70 will receive a letter from the Health Services Executive between October 31 and November 14 asking them to complete a means test to decide their benefits and to return this form to the HSE within two weeks.
The HSE said it will complete all assessments by the end of December.
For the purposes of the means test, an income limit of €240.30 (single) or €480.60 (couple) will apply, equalling the highest amount of a State contributory pension after yesterday's Budget.
If a senior citizen's sole income is €240.30 (single) / €480.60 (couple) or less, he or she will qualify for a medical card. Other social welfare payments, such as the fuel allowance or the living alone allowance, will not be counted in the means test.
Those with an income in excess of the limits above will be asked for additional information, though savings up to €36,000 (single) or €72,000 for a couple will not be counted in the means test. The value of the family home will also not be a factor.
The Department said the means-tested amount would be income after expenses and that full account would be taken of "real expenses", current or expected, such as rent or mortgage payments, GP costs, medicines, medical appliances, nursing home fees, income tax or PRSI.
The income limit for a GP visit card will be €360.45 for single people or €720.90 for a couple while the income limit to qualify for the new Health Support Payment is a gross weekly income of less than €650 for a single person and €1,300 for a couple.