18 July 2002 Edition

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Medicine subsidy cuts a "tax on the sick"

Sinn Féin TD Seán Crowe has called on the Minister for Health to reverse his decision to cut costs by increasing the monthly maximum non-medical card holders must pay for medication.

Crowe strongly criticised the subsidy reduction, calling it a "health cut in disguise," a "cynical cash grab dictated by the Department of Finance," and a "tax on the sick."

"There is no question that this measure will disproportionately affect the working poor," he said. "After only two months into the new government, Minister Martin is already backtracking on both the National Health Strategy commitment to equity as a key principle and the Programme for Government pledge to target health inequalities. This is just not acceptable.

"For the well off ,these increases may be a minor inconvenience. But for nearly 20% of Irish working people who make just enough to disqualify them from a medical card, this could result in the denial of needed medical care. The impact of this measure is discriminatory, and I therefore call for the immediate reversal of this decision.

"I don't think Minister Martin has considered the potential costs associated with this cut. Those who cannot arrest an illness at an early stage get sicker. They may lose time at work. Some may eventually end up in an overstretched A&E department over what should have been a minor matter. What the Minister saves now on paper will show up as a real cost later - a cost perhaps greater than the immediate savings.

"I agree that the government should look to reduce the excessive cost of pharmaceuticals to the Exchequer, but a subsidy reduction that will hit low income people hardest is not the right answer. Instead, I would call for the government to investigate possible options that will reduce costs for both citizens and state - specifically, the potential cost-savings from purchasing generic drugs, and from bulk discounts through all-Ireland purchases."

o Sinn Féin Waterford representative David Cullinane says that the increased charges for access to A&E departments will further underpin the two-tier health system.

"The timing of the announcement of these increases is an act of cowardice on behalf of the government. Announcing such dramatic increases in health costs late on a Friday evening was clearly designed to catch the opposition off guard."

"The government sees no irony in increasing health costs for the most vunerable in our society in a week where corruption and massive tax evasion by the wealthy elite in this state stands exposed."

An Phoblacht
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