LABOUR leader Eamon Gilmore has questioned whether the Government is legally entitled to remove the medical card from 20,000 pensioners.
While the revisions announced on Tuesday will allow 95% of the over-70s to retain their cards, the remaining 5% will lose them at the end of December, a move that will affect 20,000 existing card holders.
But speaking in the Dáil yesterday, Mr Gilmore questioned the Government’s legal authority to do this.
The Government’s plan is to repeal the relevant section of the 2001 Health Act which granted the over-70s the automatic right to cards.
Mr Gilmore said that while repealing the act would change the position for those not yet 70, it would not remove the legal entitlement to a card for those already over 70 because of another law, the Interpretation Act 2005.
This act states: “Where an enactment is repealed, the repeal does not affect any right, privilege, obligation or liability acquired, accrued or incurred under the enactment.”
Mr Gilmore said: “In other words, the repeal of the 2001 act will not change the legal entitlement for people who are currently over 70 to continue to hold the medical card. The only way that can be done is by bringing in a legislative measure to take the medical card off them.
“Frankly, if the Tánaiste is having problems now in getting her backbenchers to vote for the repeal of the 2001 act, let us see how they face up to a legislative measure that takes the medical card off the people who currently have a legal entitlement to it,” he added.
But the Tánaiste, standing in for the Taoiseach, failed to clarify the situation.
Instead, she simply replied: “The issue of the legalities of any piece of legislation — any changes or any requirements within this House — are done with the best legal advice from the Attorney [General]”.
Ms Coughlan also failed to clarify two other issues: whether the Health Minister would be able to change the income thresholds without reference to the Dáil once the new scheme is introduced in January, and whether the Government would raise the thresholds in line with inflation.
“Just to assure people that, whatever is required to ensure no more than 5% are outside the remit, that is the Government’s intention and whatever is required, will be dealt with,” she said.
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