THE Government was warned yesterday that it may never be forgiven for ending the automatic entitlement to a medical card for everyone over 70.
A group of more than 200 members of Active Retirement Ireland yesterday met the Minister of State with responsibility for elderly people, Máire Hoctor, who was last week booed off the stage at a protest over the medical card controversy outside Leinster House.
Ms Hoctor admitted that a number of issues have to be ironed out in relation to the medical card scheme.
She is due to discuss issues with representatives from the Health Service Executive (HSE) this week, including concerns that an individual over 70 might lose their card when their spouse dies, depending on their income levels.
Before her address yesterday some 200 Active Retirement Ireland members were warned by president Kevin Molloy to treat Ms Hoctor with respect or leave the room.
However, in a veiled threat, Mr Molloy said elderly people throughout Ireland were not likely to quickly recover from the contentious budget move.
“The people over 70 felt very hurt and bruised and as we all know, bruises take a long time to heal, as far as older people are concerned,” said Mr Molloy.
“It could well be into the second half of next year before bruises disappear, if they ever disappear.”
Last week Junior Health Minister John Moloney and Progressive Democrats Senator Fiona O’Malley were prevented from speaking by angry pensioners at a national protest organised by Age Action Ireland.
Ms Hoctor was invited to the conference to calm fears over the contentious move and answer questions from worried pensioners.
One woman asked the minister if the threshold for single people could be increased, while another person questioned if a pensioner would lose the card if their spouse died and they ended up over the single person’s threshold.
Ms Hoctor said the latter was an issue of particular concern and one she would personally handle.
“I think that’s an issue of concern, one that we will address and one that I will personally take on board to have ironed out and hopefully come to have a positive outcome to that particular query.”
One man warned that if the Government targets the old, Fianna Fáil could end up like the Progressive Democrats.
“They are like the dinosaurs. The party is gone. Do you want Fianna Fáil to go too?” he asked.
Mr Molloy received a round of applause from the crowd when he called for a return to automatic medical cards for the over 70s.
He also claimed the administrative cost of the means testing scheme will far outweigh the planned savings, which he said could be better found if the health authorities policed the system more effectively to root out abuse.
Ms Hoctor said there were already 1.5 million means tests carried out on the medical card system annually and the costs associated with including the extra 5% of pensioners would not be significant.
Ms Hoctor also said the 1% income levy would not apply to state pensions.
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