I propose to take Questions Nos. 608 and 609 together.
Under the Health Act, 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.
Income guidelines have been drawn up by the chief executive officers to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility and are revised annually in line with the consumer price index. However, the guidelines are not statutorily binding and even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that his-her medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. Medical cards may also be awarded to individual family members on this basis.
The Deputy will be aware that the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness refers to the fact that health board chief executive officers are examining the operation of the medical card scheme and will consult with the social partners by the end of 2000. Particular emphasis will be placed on the needs of families with children, and on removing anomalies and barriers to take-up, including information deficits.