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Govt criticised over proposed medical card and prescription charges

Health Minister Dr James Reilly has come under fire from patients’ associations, the Opposition and medical groups for considering an annual €50 medical card charge.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Dr James Reilly has warned that more health charges could be introduced in the upcoming budget, including fees on medical cards and prescriptions.

At Fine Gael and Labour parliamentary party meetings last night, Dr Reilly revealed that he was considering a €50 annual charge on medical cards and an increase of the 50c prescription levy.

He also warned that up to 40 community nursing units could close and other frontline services further affected by budget cuts.

Steven McMahon of the Irish Patients Association said the proposed charge on medical cards was “shocking news” for the 1.7 million people who avail of them.

“The whole point of people being on medical cards is that they cannot pay for private consults from their GP,” he said on Newstalk Breakfast this morning.

McMahon also pointed to the fact that such a charge could impact negatively on Ireland’s hospital system if patients arrive to the emergency department before seeing their doctor.

RTÉ is reporting that another option on the table is for more people to receive a GP-only card, rather than the more wide-ranging medical card. Currently, 128,292 people in Ireland hold a GP-only card.

Last Thursday, the Dáil passed a bill which would allow more doctors to provide medical services to those eligible under the GMS scheme.

The prescription levy, which Fine Gael had hoped to abolish completely, may also be increased. The current 50c fee has already been criticised by pharmacists, who recently called for vulnerable patients to be excluded from the charge.

Leaked proposals

Sinn Féin argued that the leaks from last night’s meetings are “deliberate” and aim to “soften up” the public for more health cuts.

“The threatened health cuts ‘leaked’ from Minister Reilly’s meeting would devastate the public health services. The closure of over 40 HSE care homes – following a litany of such closures in recent weeks –  the imposition of a €50 charge for medical cards, increase in prescription charges – these are recipes for disaster for the old, the sick and those on low incomes,” said the party’s spokesperson on health Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin.

Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty told Newstalk this morning that she did not believe the leaks were coming from her party.

“I’m urging Fine Gael and Labour colleagues not to undermine the budget negotiation process,” she said. “New backbench TDs need to realise that it is not more important for them to be on the front page of any newspaper than for these negotiations to take place.”

Commenting on the “serious pressures” on the health budget, she said the Croke Park Agreement is the “elephant in the room”.

“Seventy per cent of that [health] budget is protected by Croke Park,” she said.

Read: Minister for Health warns of significant health service cuts>

More: Thousands turn out to protest Abbeyleix nursing unit closure>

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