I am almost speechless as a result of the Minister's response. I will do him one little courtesy by not referring to the Government's pre-2002 general election promise to extend the medical card to more than 200,000 additional people because he is already sufficiently discredited on that point.
The Government's health strategy, under what it calls, "National Goal No. 2 — Fair Access", promises to increase income guidelines for medical cards. Last year a married couple aged up to 65 years were entitled to a medical card if their income was under €200. However, the Minister has indicated in his reply that that figure has been increased by €6.50 for the current year, which is a 3.25% increase. Was that the best the Minister could do? If a married couple with two children under 16 years of age have an income of €260 per week, they will not qualify for a medical card.
Under the Minister's guidelines families with young children regularly face a terrible choice. To visit a GP costs between €30 and €50 depending on where in the country one is domiciled. Families must choose which of their daily needs to do without to visit a GP with a sick child. Up to one fifth and in some cases one quarter of a weekly income is spent on the GP visit alone, before the cost of medication. The figures the Minister has announced for 2004 continue a pattern that is removed from the reality of the daily living conditions of ordinary people and contributes to the basis of ill-health. Real needs, particularly those of children, which the Minister emphasised, are not being addressed because of the terrible and stark choices facing families.
How does the Minister morally justify the extension of the medical card to all over the age of 70, regardless of income or means, while children up to the age of 18 years, some living in real or relative poverty, do not have the benefit of a medical card? I do not believe that the Minister can morally justify that. This is a very serious matter affecting an increasing number of people because the curtailments and restrictions introduced on the medical card leave people in real poverty on a daily basis.