Tuesday, 27 January 2004

Questions (543)

Seán Haughey

Question:

658 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Health and Children the income guidelines for eligibility for medical cards in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1301/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Health and Children)

The medical card income guidelines issued by the chief executive officers of the health boards for 2004 are: — effective from 1 January 2004

Single Person Living Alone

Aged up to 65 years

142.50

Aged between 66 — 69 years

156.00

Single Person living with Family

Aged up to 65 years

127.00

Aged between 66 — 69 years

134.00

Married Couple

Aged up to 65 years

206.50

Aged between 66 — 69 years

231.00

Aged between 70 — 79 years

462.00

Aged between 80 years and over

486.00

Allowances

For child under 16 years

26.00

For dependant over 16 years with no income maintained by applicant

27.00

For out-goings on house (rent etc.) in excess of

26.00

Reasonable expenses necessarily incurred in travelling to work in excess of

23.00

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means. Under the Health Act, 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board. Other than for persons aged 70 years and over who are automatically entitled to a medical card, 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 are drawn up each year by the health board-authority chief executive officers to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility for a medical card and these are revised annually in line with the consumer price index, CPI. However, it should be noted that 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. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

It should be remembered that health board chief executive officers have discretion in the issuing of medical cards and also that a range of income sources are excluded by the health boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Many allowances such as carer's allowance, child benefit, domiciliary care allowance, family income supplement and foster care allowance are all disregarded when determining a person's eligibility. Given these factors and the discretionary powers of the CEOs, having an income that exceeds the guidelines does not mean that a person will not be eligible for a medical card, and a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that a person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this.

I am conscious that increases in social welfare rates in recent years have given rise to a situation where such rates may exceed the income guidelines for a medical card. Because of this situation, my Department has written to the chairman of the chief executive officers' group on a number of occasions, most recently on 5 November 2003, asking that he advise the CEOs of my concern that medical card holders should not be disadvantaged by virtue of increases in social welfare payments which may be announced in the forthcoming budget. They were asked to ensure that increases in social welfare payments do not lead to medical card holders losing their medical cards by reference to the income guidelines and to make every effort to ensure that both medical card holders and applicants are made fully aware that increases in social welfare payments will not disadvantage them when applying to hold or retain a medical card.