24 June 2004 Edition
Minister accepts that medical card income guidelines "too low"
The Minister for Health and Children has admitted that income thresholds for Medical Card qualification are too low. He was replying to a Dáil Question from Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who challenged the Minister to act on his statement and extend medical card qualification to all under 18 during the lifetime of this Government.
Ó Caoláin described as "another snub to the people, another broken promise" the Minister's failure to commit to the extension of medical card cover as promised before the last General Election. The Minister would only say that "hopefully" there would be an extension during the remainder of the Government's term. Ó Caoláin said:
"When I last raised this matter the Minister stated that due to the prevailing budgetary situation it was not possible this year to meet the commitment in the Government's health strategy to increase the number of people eligible for a Medical Card. Since the Minister made that statement the budgetary situation has greatly improved as have the general economic trends.
"Yet the fact remains that a married couple with two children with a miserly income of €260 per week will not qualify for free GP care for their children. That is scandalous in the Ireland of 2004 — the Ireland of a booming private healthcare industry, the Ireland of record sales of the most expensive cars, where many can afford multiple annual foreign holidays, where there is a new landlordism. At the other end of the scale are the families who suffer real hardship in order to meet the medical needs of their young children.
"The Government's Health Strategy repeatedly stresses the vital importance of primary care and the Minister rightly repeats that at every opportunity. Yet many, many of the children of the nation are being denied proper access to primary care. The principle of universal qualification regardless of income is applied to people over 70 but not to those under 18. Because of the total inadequacy of the income guidelines there is a vast pool of unmet need."