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Health Budget measures could have “dangerous and unintended” consequences, GPs warn

The doctors’ group is warning that measures like the downgrading of medical cards for 35,000 pensioners could cause problems down the line.

Image: Photocall Ireland

Updated 10.53pm

THE IRISH COLLEGE of General Practitioners is warning that several aspects of the 2014 Health Budget announced yesterday have the potential to cause “significant distress to the most vulnerable groups in society”.

Health Minister James Reilly has admitted the process of targeting €666 million in cuts and savings in his department next year is a huge task, saying this morning it will be the “toughest challenge” he’s had to face yet in his position.

The doctors’ group says the withdrawal of the medical card from some 35,000 older people is of particular concern, and that the Budget as a whole is a “retrograde step” in the Government’s long-term plan to bring in universal GP care for all.

“Providing universal GP cover for all children aged five and under may seem laudable and a step towards universal cover — however, the other action of withdrawing an estimated 35,000 medical cards from the over 70s is contrary to the expansion of universal health cover,” the ICGP’s Dr Darach O’Ciardha said.

“It is, in effect, a withdrawal of cover from a group in our population who already have universal medical cover.”

The 35,000 are losing their cards due to a tightening of the eligibility limits, however those affected will still qualify for GP visit cards. Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said yesterday that the introduction of free care for those aged five and under was the next step in the process of bringing it in for all age groups.

The GPs group also criticised the Government for not introducing a minimum price level for alcohol, describing it as a “missed opportunity”

“[Michael Noonan] has opted not to introduce measures to combat the sale of cheap alcohol, opting instead for only a nominal increase in the price of alcohol.”

Speaking this morning, the Finance Minister said the Government was waiting to see the outcome of a case currently before the European courts regarding Scotland’s introduction of a minimum pricing law, before it could be decided how Ireland should proceed.

Meanwhile, the Irish Hospice Foundation is calling on the coalition reverse its decision to scrap the bereavement grant, saying the measure “represents a burden on older people’s pockets and on their psychological security concerning funeral arrangements and peace of mind”.

- First published 2.25pm

Read: Howlin says notion of ‘shame’ over bereavement grant abolition ‘entirely inappropriate’ >

Read: €666 million adjustment “toughest challenge I’ve had to face yet” — Reilly

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