Wider access to medical cards in budget

Thousands more people could receive medical cards as part of the upcoming budget, the health minister has said.

The Government is planning to increase the number of people who qualify for medical cards by increasing the income thresholds for the scheme.

It comes after the Government strongly hinted that there is a strong desire to reduce the burden of income tax on low-to-middle income earners as part of Budget 2018.

Questioned about the possibility of cutting USC and tax rates, yesterday Minister of State Damien English said “nothing is definite” as decisions will not be made until budget day but said “everything will be looked at”.

“We are committed to making it easier to go to work and to make this country more competitive. We have to be competitive as a country, and if people are paying too much tax on their wages it is a deterrent to job creation,” Mr English told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics.

Separately, he said Government would be “about a month late” in delivering its promises around homelessness, but promised that all families would be out of hotels and in more appropriate accommodation by early August.

Meanwhile, the Health Minister Simon Harris is determined that access to free GP care be broadened and will be hoping to do this through the upcoming budget as well as ongoing negotiations with doctors.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Harris said: “I am not meant to pre-empt the budget but I would hope we would begin to see some further improvements in terms of access to medical cards.”

On top of hammering out a new contract with GPs — which hasn’t been renewed for 40 years — Mr Harris is drafting a report on how to implement the Sláintecare report setting out a plan for the next decade.

Mr Harris has highlighted increasing eligibility and access to the health service is a key part of both of these things.

“I want to increase eligibility to GP care in line with a negotiated agreement with GPs. So for example, in recent years we have seen more people being able to access primary care through the GMS scheme, so we saw the free GP care for under 6s, we saw the Government bring in an automatic entitlement to a medical card for 10,000 children with disabilities who didn’t have one.”

“There are other ways in which you can increase eligibility, increasing the income threshold for the medical card is one, increasing access for an age cohort is another, increasing access based on a medical condition is another,” he said.

Currently, a single person must earn €184 or less a week to qualify for a medical card, while for a couple the weekly income threshold is €266.50. Extra allowances are given for dependent children.

Increasing the amount a person or family could earn by even a small amount would open the medical card system up to thousands more.

Mr Harris has also committed to overhauling the HSE as well as implementing the Sláintecare report drawn up by a cross-party Oireachtas Committee.

“The HSE is too big, it needs to be pared back, it’s too bureaucratic. We need a much leaner national body,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation last night said there had been record levels of overcrowding in hospitals in the first half of the year, claiming that 51,321 patients, admitted for care, were on trolleys in Emergency Department/Ward areas.

The INMO said this was a 6% increase on figures for the first half of last year and that the 7,124 patients on trolleys last month was a 21% increase on the number for June 2016. Overcrowding was worst in June in University Hospital Limerick, with 640, followed by University Hospital Galway and the Mater Hospital in Dublin.



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