Plans to cut the number of pensioners who can access over-70s medical cards directly contradict the Coalition’s Programme for Government promises, it has been claimed.
Opposition TDs aimed the allegation at minister of state at the Department of Health, Alex White, during an Oireachtas health committee meeting on legislation to implement the cuts yesterday.
During the meeting the Labour official insisted just 10% of “high-earning” pensioners will be affected by the change, which will see eligibility limits drop to €900 a week for a couple and €500 for a single person.
Mr White said these 35,000 people will still receive GP-only visit cards — a move he insisted will save money without leaving elderly people without any help.
The Labour minister said this means the Programme for Government has not been breached as nobody will be left without the ability to access free GP care.
However, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the policy switch flew in the face of pre-election plans.
“If the reduction to €1,400 [the level in place at the end of the last government] was an attack on pensioners, then the reduction to €900 is an outright assault,” he claimed.
“It will impact hugely on these people. Some of them will be unable to afford private health insurance, and then they will find they do not meet the eligibility for medical card help as well.
“I can’t square that with the explanation given. This bill is contradictory to everything in the Programme for Government.
“I don’t want to be overly political, but it does beggar belief that we are talking about another reduction in eligibility when the programme said everything about extending it.”
The remark was echoed by Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Independent TD Seamus Healy, who described the cuts as “disgusting”.
Mr Ó Caoláin said the fact that protests over the pensioner reductions this year are not as noticeable as those in 2008 — when Fianna Fáil attempted to impose similar changes — should not be “seen as acceptance” of the need for changes. “It is because people are beaten down,” he said, asking Mr White if this was a “proud” moment in his political career.
Mr Healy noted that Health Minister James Reilly had described the 2008 cuts attempt as “terrorism” while in opposition, and asked how such a change in stance could take place within a matter of years.
However, Mr White said the “overwhelming majority” of pensioners “will be unaffected” by the changes.
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