The entitlements of existing medical card holders will be scrutinised in Health Minister James Reilly’s upcoming review.
A spokesman for the minister said it would be a “full review” of the schemes involved in order to “get a full understanding of [their] cost effectiveness”.
A draft report by the European Commission circulated to TDs on Tuesday revealed that the Government had agreed to consider “reforming” eligibility for medical cards in the forthcoming budget.
The document did not say whether the assessment would apply to existing card holders or merely future applicants.
However, the minister’s spokesman said yesterday it would be a “full review” of how the schemes operated.
This means the entitlements of existing cardholders will be assessed — though the department is not directly saying as much.
“The troika raised the issue with regard to the costs associ-ated with medical cards and the PCRS area within Ireland,” the spokesman said, referring to the primary care reimbursement service which processes payments to medical professi-onals who provide free or reduced-cost services to the public under the schemes.
“So there’s going to be a full review of these schemes in terms of their cost-effectiveness and in terms of their equity and so on,” he added.
The spokesman said it was merely a review at this stage, and that any changes to eligibility would require legislation.
“In the first instance, what has to happen is a review of the medical card scheme, which has to involve the medical card and GP-only card [in order to] get a full understanding of its cost-effectiveness.”
He said a full review did not commit the minister to any particular course of action.
The Government is under pressure to cut health costs, and the department says medical cards account for €100m of this year’s budget overrun.
While restricting eligibility for future applicants might be considered feasible, changing entitlements for existing cardholders would be politically toxic.
In 2008, the previous government moved to take away medical cards from some over-70s but, amid public outcry, quickly watered down its proposals, which resulted in far fewer people being affected.
* Click HERE for the draft copy of the latest European Commission staff review of Ireland under the bailout programme
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