By Evelyn RingIrish Examiner Reporter
Two major organisations representing older people have welcomed the free GP visit card for those aged over 70.
However, some older people may have to change doctors as the GP visitation card is only available for those doctors who have signed up for the Medical Card (GMS).
From next Wednesday all 400,000 people aged 70 and over will be able to see a GP without paying fees.
An online registration system is now available on www.gpvisitcard.ie and a registration form will also be available in pharmacies and local health offices.
Age Action, welcoming the initiative, said it would assist the 40,000 older people who are not eligible for the full medical card. “As a move towards the restoration of universal entitlement to healthcare for the over 70s, this is an important step,” said Age Action spokesperson, Gerard Scully.
The Irish Senior Citizens Parliament said free GP care for everyone over 70 was a welcome move in the right direction.
Spokesperson for the national organisation of older people, Máiréad Hayes, said the card was part of a commitment in the Programme for Government.
“Better collection of data and monitoring of the health and well-being of those aged 70 will, in time, lead to better health outcomes for all older people,” said Ms Hayes.
However, she was concerned that the card would not help older people to access community care.
“If we want to truly deal with many of the issues affecting older people then we need to make sure that all older people have that access which will enable them to remain and live within their own homes and communities,” she said.
The free GP visit card covers home visits but it will be a matter for the GP to exercise his or her judgment in each individual case in determining whether a home visit is warranted.
Out-of-hours urgent GP care is also covered.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said free GP care for over 70s was an important second step on the way to universal healthcare.
The move follows the roll-out of free GP care for all under-sixes on July 1 —around 150,000 out of 276,000 children who are eligible are now registered.Latest figures from the HSE show that 91% of GPs have signed up to provide healthcare to under sixes — 2,196 out of a total of 2,404.
Mr Varadkar said that for the first time the eldest and youngest in society will be able to access GP care without being charged.
He said the scheme was likely to cost around €18- €20 million in a full year.
Minister for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch said older people would have a GP assigned to them by the HSE if they were turned down by three GPs. Ms Lynch said the scheme would be extended to cover children in primary education — the under 12s, before moving on to the under 18s.
OThe new scheme replaces the existing means tested GP service arrangement for over 70s. However, over 70s who already hold a medical or GP visit card do not need to register.
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