He has also disputed a claim by Health Minister Dr James Reilly that he imposed €113m in cuts to the medical card scheme, saying it was “decided by Government”.
The HSE has cast doubt over plans to slash €113m from the scheme saying it will carry out an independent review of the figure before agreeing to include it its service plan for 2014.
Mr Howlin believes the sum can be achieved through “probity” or “removing cards that are no longer in use, cards for people who have died or who have left the country... or people whose circumstances have improved since they applied for the card”.
Dr Reilly, said a lot has already been done in this area and he was “frankly concerned about what can be achieved here”.
The Irish College of General Practitioners said the HSE had become “extremely efficient at identifying medical cards that are no longer valid” and that “this level of error is simply not in the system”.
The HSE chief executive, Tony O’Brien, told and Oireachtas health committee meeting last Thursday that it was carrying out a “thorough assessment” of the figure. He said if the cuts cannot “reasonably” be found through probity, “then an alternative way of meeting that shortfall will have to be found”.
However, Mr Howlin laid down a clear warning last night, saying in response to questions from the Irish Examiner that “it’s a matter for the HSE to produce a service plan consistent with the Government’s decision on its estimates”.
Under pressure from the opposition to step down, Dr Reilly came out fighting yesterday, saying he has “no intention of resigning” and that he was “absolutely in control” of his department’s budget. He will come under further pressure today when pensioners take to the streets over budget cuts.
The lunchtime protest at the Dáil gates is organised by the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and backed by Age Action Ireland and Siptu.
Parliament spokesman Paddy Healy said changes to medical card assessment for the over-70s, the loss of the telephone allowance, and the hike in prescription charges had left many older people incensed.
The last major protest by older people in 2008 brought about 15,000 to the Dáil gates and led to a partial climbdown on plans to axe the over-70s medical card.
Age Action’s Eamon Timmins said it was very important people registered their opposition to the latest cuts.
“We are urging people to get out and be seen and be heard, not just older people because we know the most frail and vulnerable will not be able to be on Molesworth St, but their sons and daughters too — how older people are treated affects us all.”
A spokesperson for Kathleen Lynch, the minister for older people, said that she had not received an invitation to address the protestors and had no plans last night to meet with them.